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Brewer's GM Guide #2 - Session Structure


Advice


I've completed the rough draft of a second GM guide, this time concerned with session structure and giving your players the maximum enjoyment with the same basic content.

The Guide: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B5kvBvq2DEHjRU5FRWV6eDAwa1k


Dragon had an article in the late 90s (IIRC) making the case for structuring campaigns and sessions as if they were TV series. I wasn't a fan of how they did it and I'm not a fan of your approach, either.

In general, the problem is that a TV series - or any other kind of narrative storytelling medium - is controlled by one person. RPGs are an entirely different beast; treating them like a TV series will end up the DM-as-writer syndrome... probably one of the biggest complaint I have heard about the style of generally-reckognized-as-bad DMs.

I think your splitting hairs when trying to differentiate your version of recaps and what "a lot of GMs do." I've always done a quick recap to get people's juices flowing, but in general I find players (or, at least, the group collectively) will remember all relevant details. If they haven't, they probably aren't properly engaged in the campaign.

You also seem to write assuming that people have neat sessions in which an entire adventure or adventure leg is completed. I've always had regularly timed sessions which rarely butt up nicely with in game events. Starts of new arcs can happen in the middle of sessions, in the last hour, etc., This is another reason the comparison to an episode of TV sow falls flat.


Whale_Cancer wrote:

Dragon had an article in the late 90s (IIRC) making the case for structuring campaigns and sessions as if they were TV series. I wasn't a fan of how they did it and I'm not a fan of your approach, either.

In general, the problem is that a TV series - or any other kind of narrative storytelling medium - is controlled by one person. RPGs are an entirely different beast; treating them like a TV series will end up the DM-as-writer syndrome... probably one of the biggest complaint I have heard about the style of generally-reckognized-as-bad DMs.

I think your splitting hairs when trying to differentiate your version of recaps and what "a lot of GMs do." I've always done a quick recap to get people's juices flowing, but in general I find players (or, at least, the group collectively) will remember all relevant details. If they haven't, they probably aren't properly engaged in the campaign.

You also seem to write assuming that people have neat sessions in which an entire adventure or adventure leg is completed. I've always had regularly timed sessions which rarely butt up nicely with in game events. Starts of new arcs can happen in the middle of sessions, in the last hour, etc., This is another reason the comparison to an episode of TV sow falls flat.

Few things.

Point #1 - Treating it like a TV show will lead to DM-as-writer.

I completely disagree. Step back for a second and separate Structure versus Content. You're absolutely right that if you rely on tv plots/adventures as the source of your *content*, you're going to creep into GM-as-writer territory. But that's completely different than using TV's *structure*. Those things that I talk about in the guide have nothing to do with the actual content - it's just the way/order you present them to your players.

Heck, take a look at my prior guide and the specific examples in this one and point to where I'm railroading.

Point #2 - The refreshers/recaps being unnecessary.

Again, I completely disagree. I definitely don't think it's fair to say that if a player doesn't remember the relevant details, they're not engaged in the campaign.

And even if most of the players remember most of the relevant details... isn't it still worth it to get everyone on the same page? Heck, at the very least, it makes sure that people aren't confusing two different NPCs or two different enemies they've run into in sessions past. Clarity is rarely a bad thing when GM'ing.

Point #3 - Neat sessions versus regularly timed sessions.

You've got an assumption you're working off of - it's also one I'd suggest you test out for a campaign or two. Your assumption is that how you're handling adventures is superior to neat/clean sessions of adventure legs.

Our group is in the same boat as you - we've got one semi-timed session per week (starts at a specific time, goes 3-4 hours.) So it's not like what I'm suggesting pertains to a group radically different than yours.

....

Or maybe this will help: Imagine your television was interactive. You get to control what one of the characters does.

Do you really think the *structure* of the show would be different? You don't think the same tricks would be involved? You don't think the pacing would crescendo into a commercial, but then stall for a bit after the commercial to get you back into the action? You don't think the episode would try to tie the content off in a mostly-complete bow? You don't think the episode would give you teasers as to what you could do next week if you participated again?

Sovereign Court

I haven't read it through completely yet, just the Recap part. But I'm intrigued, you have nice ideas here. I'll get back to it in more detail later on. Keep going!


My group plays for ~9 hours a session, one session a month (at best; I think it'll be nearly 8 weeks between sessions coming up). Recaps are necessary because they can't be asked to remember every detail of every NPC or event. Even the most engaged player can only recall the broad strokes of the campaign when we start a game.

Recaps are good. I include one in my email after each session and go over it at the start of each session. I also remind players of things the characters would know about NPCs or locations about which they should know.

As for structure, well, I run adventure paths and those are pretty strong in concept. In the past, I would run things in episodic format with missions. So much like a standard TV show; "monster of the week" with a smattering of "central plot arc". Usually tried to sneak at least a little progression against the primary purpose into every adventure, but a lot were filler that was fun and really just served to get players up a few levels before the next Big Event(tm).

But every GM is different. A friend's style is to jot down a few very broad ideas ("A's dad is werewolf hunter who was denied retirement; B's girl is daughter of mob boss; fae in the mines; all the groups are at odds) and literally makes up everything as we go. All the character names, the places, the events, the fights are all ad hoc inventions.

It works rather well for World of Darkness, and he's quite good at that style, but it is very different than me, or my other friends when they GM. Lots of styles and they are all successful with different people to differing degrees.

Sovereign Court

I tend to go with:
- every session should include one+ action scene
- most sessions should push ahead the main plot a bit, although that doesn't have to be the main focus of the session.

I'd caught sight of the importance of recaps, but hadn't developed a specific idea of what should be in them.

Sovereign Court

I've read the whole thing through now, and I like it. I'm going to try some of these ideas about pacing.

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