Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Play Unsafe

I've read a lot of essays about being a better roleplayer over the years, whether as a chapter in a rulebook, an article in a magazine, a post in a blog, or part of a complete book on the subject. One of the things almost all of these had in common was that they were aimed towards the gamemaster. They might occasionally suggest ways for players to become better roleplayers, but it was usually in terms of how gamemasters could help them to improve their game.

Play Unsafe is unusual in that it is aimed first towards the player. There's stuff aimed at the gamemaster too, and a gamemaster can get a lot out of the stuff that isn't aimed directly at him as well, but unlike most of the other things I've read, the focus is on the player.

The premise of Play Unsafe is to apply principles of improvisational drama to roleplaying. Not being familiar with those principles as they apply to drama, I can only evaluate how well the advice seems to apply to roleplaying, and I think it applies rather well.

The biggest theme of the book, aside from the obvious theme of being more improvisational, is to be more natural. It suggests that you simply react to events in a natural fashion and don't try to be too clever. Sometimes what seems obvious to you may be incredibly clever to others, but when you try to be clever you'll usually just come off as fake.

This theme is expanded upon in five chapters: Play, Build, Status, Tell Stories, and Work Together. The first chapter most directly elaborates on the basic premise, reminding you that you play to have fun, and that when you focus on that you'll play better naturally. Some sample subheadings include "stop working," "be average," and "be obvious."

The Build chapter focuses on building on the ideas put forward by others in the group as opposed to shooting them down and trying to replace them with your own.

The Status chapter describes the differences in behavior between those of high status and those of low status, and how that behavior can be used to enhance roleplaying.

The Tell Stories chapter describes a number of fairly simple tricks to help make your roleplaying tell a better story. Sample subheadings include "create routines and break them," "deliver on your promises," and "reincorporate." This chapter has a lot of similarities to ideas I've seen presented before, but they're presented in a very concise way with simple examples that suggest how they can be used more easily in an improvisational style game.

The final chapter, Work Together, is pretty much what you would expect. It's mostly about playing nice, but it also describes some ways to introduce character conflict while lessening the risk of player conflict being one of the outcomes.

At 82 pages total, with a large type font, and plenty of spacing, it won't take long to read through and digest this material. I think that's a good thing. The author presents a lot of ideas, but in a clear and concise manner. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in roleplaying.

Note that while I've linked to Lulu.com above, the book is also available from www.indiepressrevolution.com as I write this, and for slightly less. Either way, the cost will be around $20, which might seem a bit high for an 84 page digest size book, but I think it is well worth it.


BlackDiamond said...

You just found me my first Christmas gift (to about five people).

Fulminata said...

Items purchased by those who liked Play Unsafe:

Play Dirty by John Wick
Things We Think About Games by Will Hindmarch & Jeff Tidball
Gamemastering Secrets by Aaron Rosenberg


Graham said...

Thanks for the review. Much appreciated.

I'm halfway through writing a sequel, which comes from my acting training (a slightly different thing from the improvisation theory).


Fulminata said...

You're welcome, thank you for writing the book.

I look forward to the sequel!

Post a Comment