We’re all familiar with the concept of Success Level. It’s the total for a given roll – more precisely, it’s how much that roll impacts the game. High success level generally means a character completed the task optimally, dealt more damage, or found out juicier clues.
But here’s something interesting about Success Level. It’s really a measure of how much control the player has over a given plot element. Think about it: if he rolls higher, his action has greater impact on the situation – he’s wielding greater control over the story. It’s important to think about SL this way because my ad-libbing power tool for this week works the exact same way. It’s called Interest Level.
You’ve seen Interest Level before: when players get hung up on some unimportant detail, as if it’s the most important thing in the story, that’s high Interest Level. Well, the Interest Level ad-lib technique is: when your players have high IL for a certain plot element (i.e., they’re asking questions about it, making lots of investigation or knowledge rolls, telling each other theories about it, etc.), change the story so that that thing becomes as important as they think it is.
Say they mistake an insignificant object for an Important, Good Thing – you can make it turn out to be an Important, Bad Thing. Or they mistake an insignificant NPC remark for an important clue – you could turn it into a whole quest.
With IL, players are subconsciously showing you that they would like this plot element to be a bigger part of the story. Not only is this just about the best way players can help a GM ad lib, your only alternative is to be frustrated with them for spending time on something unimportant. So be flexible, and don’t get too attached to your outline.
Remember what I said about SL being a measure of control over the story? Well, IL controls story in the exact same way. The only difference is that you determine it mentally, based on how interested the players seem, rather than determining it mechanically, with dice. However, that’s no reason we should treat the two concepts differently when we GM. …After all, when a player rolls a skill it’s because he’s interested in affecting the situation in some way.
Are there potential drawbacks with this technique? Of course! If you turn everything that catches the players’ interest into a major plot point, you’ll soon have more quests going than anyone can keep straight. Think of this more as a tool for once in a while, whenever you find yourself thinking, “why are they paying so much attention to this Pie Dish of Perspicuity, when the story’s real magic artifact is right over there?” (A rejected title for this post was: “Players Too Interested in Something Unimportant? Turn That Speed Bump Into A Plot Hook… With The Magic of Interest Level!”)