What should you do when a session feels a bit flat?

We’ve all been in that position from time to time when you run a game session that you don’t feel is up to your best standards, this could be for any number of reasons, you might be tired or have other things going on that serve to distract you from running the game. The most recent example of this for me was a Star Wars session in my ongoing campaign, if you’re interested you can see the actual-play video here:

Now I’m not saying this was a terrible session by any means, luckily I’m blessed with a great group of players and–despite us being a man down–I had fun running the session, and certainly hope the players enjoyed it as well. None-the-less I didn’t feel like the session compared favourably against some others that I have run, particularly the previous session in the campaign that was a space battle extravanganza with people jumping across the vacuum of space, thrilling escapes and desperate fights for survival.

First of all have a breather

If you’re anything like me as a GM then you’re probably your own worst critic when it comes to analysing your sessions, we’re all striving to run that perfect session and improve on what we’ve done previously and–unfortunately–sometimes we falls short, “to err is human” as the old saying goes. It can be tempting after a session that you don’t feel worked, to immediately start pulling it apart and attempting to analyse what went wrong, I’ve certainly done this myself.

I suggest that you take a day or two after the session though to do some other stuff and not think about it too much, this will give your emotions time to calm down and allow you to look at the session more objectively when you do start analysing it.

It’s probably not as bad as you think

If you have recorded your session or have notes then have a look at them, the session probably wasn’t as bad as you thought it was, as long as your players still had fun then you’ve done okay; this isn’t to say you can’t improve in future sessions, but it’s a matter of perspective, you may have thought a game was terrible an actually your players enjoyed it. Talk to your players as well, find out their perspective on the game.

Work out why you think the session didn’t work

When you’re reviewing your session notes or watching the actual play video back, make a simple list of factors that you think contributed to the session not working as well as you’d liked.

Example: For my Star Wars session I’ve come up with the following:

  • I was really too tired–due to RL stuff going on–to run the game at my best, I knew this at the time but didn’t want to cancel the game since we only run bi-weekly and it’d be a long time without a session.
  • The afore-mentioned RL stuff didn’t allow me the prep time that I would’ve preferred.
  • We were introducing a new character, I’d not got round to reviewing their sheet so there were a few opportunities to introduce some interesting stuff for that player that I missed.
  • The session was effectively a dungeon-crawl on a space ship, there was too much dead space with nothing interesting occurring; I should have created a few different groups within the dungeon who had goals so that–if the game started to lag–I could have used one of these groups to have something interesting occur.
  • As the climax to a long-running plot thread it felt a bit anti-climactic.
  • A lot of my campaign has been fairly linear so far, I’d like the players to have more freedom and choice when it comes to steering the campaign.

While you’re doing this make sure you also pay attention to the stuff that did work during the session, it can be tempting just to focus on the negative, but if the session was enjoyable then you were obviously doing something right.

Create a tick list for future sessions

Make yourself a big tick list containing the things that you need to do in future sessions to not make these mistakes again, before each session have a quick look over it and check it against your session plan to avoid repeating mistakes.

The list I’ve come up with for my Star Wars campaign is:

  • Review character sheets–particular for new character–and jot down some potential tasks/encounters that are tailored to their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Create a number of groups/organisations active in the area with their own goals–and stats–that can be used to move the game along if it stalls or slows down.
  • Broadly detail the star systems in the Sector and make it clear to the players that going forward I’m going to be relying on them to steer the sessions more.

Don’t beat yourself up over it

Everyone has the occasional session that isn’t up to their normal standard, there’s no point agonising over it and beating yourself up, instead look at the session as a learning experience and an opportunity to improve your game going forward.

Dungeon World Prep – The Holy City of Amarana

Given that I’ve been talking about prep recently, thought I’d share a page of my prep for Amarana, a holy city in my Dungeon World campaign.

You can find out more about Amarana–and the rest of the campaign–here:

http://www.reddicediaries.com/DW_Wiki/#Holy%20City%20of%20Amarana

 

 

 

Random Things: Street Vendors

cart-1200940_960_720Street Vendors

These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game. Street vendors are often seen in smaller settlements in fantasy RPGs where there are no established markets, selling their wares from wooden carts or in simple crates at the side of the dirt paths that serve as the main throughfares, however they can also be found in larger settlements, either trying to dodge taxes or perhaps they simply can’t afford a pitch on a more prestigious market.

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GM Tips: Prepping for a Campaign Part 5 – Post Game Prep

Okay so you’ve done your prep, got the campaign running and have run your first session, surely that’s it for prep until you start getting ready for the next session right?

Wrong. You certainly could run games like this, however, there’s a few little bits of prep you can do after your session has finished that will make your life easier and improve your campaign in the long run.

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Tiddlywikis

I’ve waxed lyrical about the virtues of Tiddlywikis before, small programs that you can use to host and reference the information for your campaign, well I’ve recently started them to for two campaigns that I’m running and they’re now hosted on my website:

GM Tips: Prepping for a Campaign Part 4 – Prep for the Start of a Session

The main focus of a lot of peoples prep occurs when getting ready for running an actual session, this post isn’t going to talk about the specifics of writing an adventure or creating a story for a session, but rather what sort of things you should get ready and have to hand when you run it to make your job easier.

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Random things you might see in a strange port

Our random things articles are designed to give quick hits of inspiration for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, when you’re stuck for a detail roll 1D20 on the table below for an idea. Although these articles are mostly fantasy-based in nature we’ve strived to keep them generic enough that they can be used with most games.

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Frost-covered Trinkets for D&D 5E

These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we’re looking at trinkets again. Trinkets were one of my favourite things about character generation in D&D 5th Edition; essentially each character starts with at least one, a small item or curiosity that has some odd property or something strange about it, it’s not a powerful magic item, just something interesting that could spur conversation and plot. Although this article was inspired by D&D 5E the same mechanic can be used in pretty much any game including OSR titles.

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Random Things you might find in the Lost World

Our random things articles are designed to give quick hits of inspiration for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, when you’re stuck for a detail roll 1D20 on the table below for an idea. Although these articles are mostly fantasy-based in nature we’ve strived to keep them generic enough that they can be used with most games.

Lost worlds and valleys are a staple of many pulp and fantasy genres, whether it be a lost plateau in the mountains where dinosaurs still roam or a mist shrouded valley filled with giant mushrooms and prehistoric plants, you should find something useful in this article.

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Random Things you might encounter in the Underdark

Mushroom_(PSF)These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game,in this article we are taking a look at that most infamous of realms the Underdark, a realm of sunless seas and lightless caverns deep below the known world. The Underdark is home of the evil Drow, the Kuo-Toa and other abominations that dwell in the deep far from the light of the surface world.

When you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table. Continue reading