The structure of a successful game session.


You want to play or run a role playing game. You set a time and a venue and show up with your character, dice, pen and paper and snacks. You all sit down and start playing and hours later you all had a ton of fun. Its just that easy….right?

Sadly to get the full potential out of a game session there is a lot more to it, and if the above comment sounds like your game sessions then pay attention.

Many requirements are different for both Dungeon Masters and players alike, so we will address both separately starting with the Dungeon Master. Some are alike however so we will address the mutual ones at the end.

For the Dungeon Master.

Your preparation for the game session started way before you show up or set up to play. You should refresh yourselves with the players character sheets, made sure you know your adventure fluidly and have all your materials gathered and at hand. I am not going to get into details on all of this here, but obviously before you can run a story or adventure you have to have it ready to go. You should know the adventure you plan on running inside out. If you created it, then go over it all and make sure you are happy with it. If it is a published adventure you should have read it ALL cover to cover (and maybe twice). It is not adequate to “skim over” the published product not is it acceptable to read just enough to cover the current game session. You have to know what is coming in the future to be able to understand the present. You should understand how the characters will fit into the adventure, and should have made sure the encounters “work” with your characters.

One thing I HATE with a passion is a fledgling Dungeon Master who thinks he can wing an entirely successful session without reparation. You can’t, and if you think you can you are wrong! You may be able to string along a few improvised encounters and somehow hold it all together with a few lame interactions, but you are not running a successful session! A vastly experienced Dungeon Master who has evolved to running truly organic sessions may be able to do this, (I will cover this in a different topic) but even then he will have done a vast amount of preparation of a different kind before hand.

Game day you should get to the venue early, and get setup with all the materials you will need and make sure you have ample dice, pencils and paper and are able to provide the players with anything they will need including a copy of their character sheet when they forget to bring it. Ensure that your play area is adequate and clearly defined as “your space”. Next ensure you have a comfortable and workable space around you for your players.

Once the game begins (which should not be until at least thirty minutes after you all arrive, see bellow,) you should begin by recapping the last session and remind everyone where you left off. Ask the players if they have any questions before you begin play. Next slip into your Dungeon Master persona and ensure that all the players are ready to begin.

You should begin by re-setting the scene. Just like a good Television Show that begins with a preview of the last episode and then begins with the last scene from the last episode.

Now the game is underway you should be paying attention and making sure that ALL your players are remaining engaged. Stop for scheduled breaks to allow everyone brief respites to use the bathroom, get a snack etc but discourage anyone from just getting up and leaving the table during play. Remind yourself frequently that your job is to provide the game for the players (sometimes in the heat of game play we forget). Be aware and read your players (a skill you should have developed as a Dungeon Master). If you feel you are losing the attention of a player you should know what will pull them back in, and should act immediately to re-engage them. If and when your players ask for a detail that you did not prepare for, be ready to improvise and answer the question but ALWAYS write a note for yourself so that you remember this information next game session.

As an example if a player asks “What is the stable boys last name?” and you only had him down as Robin, throw out a last name but record it so that you remember for next time. They may well ask again and you look foolish if you cant remember your own Non Player Characters sir name.

As the session comes to an end be ready to wrap it up and ensure you know exactly where you need to pick the game up at the start of the next session. Make notes to help you pick up where you left off.

Finally ask your players how they felt the session went, and if they have and ideas on how to improve it? Park your ego and listen to the players when they do give you feed back. Remember your job is to provide THEM with the game and they know better than you what they enjoy. Be ready to answer your players questions at this time too.

For the Players.

Know your character! It is YOUR job to know your characters attributes, skills and feats. You should know your racial traits and class abilities. This includes understanding what your spells do. Your Dungeon Master has enough to keep up with, without having to manage your character for you as well. Remember to bring your gaming materials and your character sheet (if your Dungeon Master doesn’t keep it with him). Make sure you have at least a basic understanding of the rules.

Be on time. Your Dungeon Master goes to considerable work to provide you with a story and a great game so do not disrespect his or her efforts by being tardy. I for one HATE that. If you are going to be unavoidably late then have the courtesy to notify your Dungeon master personally (do not send a message with another player).

Once the Dungeon Master lets you know the game session is about to start get your mind ready and get in the game. Refrain from derailing the game session with non game related chatter ( you will have had time for this prior to game, see bellow). Be courteous of other players and do not hog valuable session time gratifying your own selfishness by engaging in unnecessary solo play. While you may enjoy taking a solo walk through the merchant district of the town while the other characters are sleeping, it is no fun for the rest of the players. PAY ATTENTION to the Dungeon Master! If he gives you a description or has a Non Player Character engage you with detailed conversation there is probably a reason. Also if he has gone to the trouble to create this session for you, its just plain rude not to give him your undivided attention. On this subject silence and leave your dam cell phone in your pocket, and keep non gaming items clear of the table. A cell phone ringing can kill the mood of the game. IF you are expecting a call that may be important warn everyone at the table ahead of time. Other than that check your phone at breaks! Keep notes so you do not have to keep asking other player of the Dungeon Master for information you should know. NEVER and I mean NEVER argue with your Dungeon Master during game play. If he rules something you feel is unjust, you can by all means question it (once), and he should then consider your input and make a decision to adhere to or change the ruling. After that it is a done deal and over. If you still feel the ruling is incorrect, just accept it (for now) and keep the game flowing. You can address any ruling issues after the game session if you feel it is necessary. Do your best to stay in character and remind yourself that the decisions you make are those that your character would consider doing and not you, the player.

Keep your emotions in check. Part of role playing is getting into character. This means you will be acting out character emotions and feelings. The key word here is ACTING. Do not allow yourself to get angry, annoyed, or upset if you can help it. At the end of the day it is all just a game. Often as a player, your personal emotions will lead you to make bad decisions and act on impulse, so keep them in check.

Be ready and willing to give your Dungeon Master constructive feed back on the game session and be sure to let him know the aspects you enjoyed most. A decent Dungeon Master will take this to heart, and ensure to include these aspects in future sessions.

For Everyone.

Arrive at least thirty minutes before you want to actually start playing. This is important! From years and years of experience I can tell you everyone like to chit chat when they first get together. They want to talk about interesting aspects of their day, or last nights episode of Game of Thrones etc. Often they may have come straight form work or class and need time to get their head in a different gear. If you do not provide yourselves with this time, do not be surprised if these things leak into the game session itself. It also covers you if a player of  two show up a few minutes late. You should consider this (prior to session) social interaction window a part of your regular gaming routine.

Make sure you bring fuel. Snacks and drinks are an integral part of long gaming sessions. Feed your brain and keep your attention on the game and off of your rumbling stomach.

A note on posture. DON’T SLOUCH! Sit up straight when around the table (or hold a good camera presence if playing around a virtual tabletop). Poor posture sends the wrong message to the Dungeon master and the players, and if you are being viewed during play, (as we are on Howreroll)  to the viewers.

Come with expectations. What do I mean by this? Well I mean do not just show up and wait to see what happens, try to have a goal for yourself for the session, or a mutual party goal. Maybe its to get a particular player to open up more and embrace the role playing aspect of the game. maybe it is to find away for your bard to utilize his bardic knowledge skill more. Even if your goal or expectation is not reached during this particular session, it is good to strive towards something.

Finally remember its about FUN! If you do not enjoy your time at the physical or virtual tabletop, you shouldn’t do it. If you are not having fun, you will most likely be sucking some of the fun out of the game for everyone else………..


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