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Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
How To Start Every Session With A Bang!
From JohnnFour | Published October 18, 2021
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1,176
I was excited to play but bored within minutes.
It became difficult to focus. I noticed other players starting to zone out too.
We were on Zoom, making it even harder.
Ideas and collaboration stopped.
It became GM => Player => Repeat. No flow between players. No flow between party and GM.
And the story disappeared. We were playing hit point countdowns.
Then the GM rallied.
Did an awesome job.
And everyone was back into it.
But I was watching, and could see how hard the GM worked to get the energy back.
Energy we began with but lost because of a slow start.
I believe it's more difficult creating positive energy than it is keeping it.
So we want to start sessions off with a bang!
And keep that energy going throughout the session.
I advise doing this in RPT 581 | The First 15 Minutes - How To Kickoff Great Game Sessions.
And here's a simple three-step approach for making this happen each time....
Step 1: Tweak the Last Encounter
You begin as you ended last game.
If standing before a door, you start with clear action.
If in town, you start with a confusion of choices.
Whether conscious or not, our session endings set the stage for our session beginnings.
So our opportunity here is to improvise session finales for Bang! type starts.
How do we do that?
We put the game into Encounter Mode as we wrap each session up.
What I mean is, we are running an encounter and not doing admin stuff. We're not in town shopping or doing other non-encounter, non-dramatic activities.
We break mid-encounter to give us a simple and clear way to start the next session.
Do this one thing and your GMing life becomes much easier because you'll have 100% confidence in how next session will start.
In turn, this lets you lean into prep easier, because you'll at least have control of the first encounter.
So, when you see session time hitting the last few minutes of gameplay, do what you can to enter into encounter mode.
Step 2: Spot Your Moment
We can stop an encounter at any time.
Top of initiative if you're in combat or are roleplaying-in-order works great.
But that's just one option.
Try to find a story hook and dangle that to end a session. An exit hook you might call it.
This will get everyone excited for next session because they'll want to know how the story turns out.
For example, I often end mid-combat. Session ends can wane in energy too. So some fun and meaningful melee in the last few minutes surges excitement.
And I'll stop the session mid-combat when moments like these pop up:
One or more characters finally reach the villain and are about to take a swing.
Someone in an important match-up criticals and is about to roll damage.
A PC makes a successful skill check to perform a combat-changing action.
Knowledge checks make awesome cliffhangers too.
After a successful skill check or question, you give out information that sets up a million other questions for next game.
Step 3: End Precariously
Session-break moment spotted, you now need to execute on delivering the hook that starts next session with a Bang!
First thing I'd do is figure out what type of exit hook I've got on my hands:
- A mystery where something revealed in the last moments gets players chewing on possibilities (see RPT 1,037 | The Dangling Description Mystery Method Formula — The Secret Sauce To Riveting Descriptions)
- Physical danger that makes players anxious about potential losses
- Revelations that spur conspiracy theories
- A major swing in the tide of battle (pun intended!)
- Key information turns up that gets players planning between sessions
- A surprise NPC who appears in a dire state
- A second wave of foes, or perhaps even a villain, appears to cast big doubts on the outcome
Then we figure out what kind of opportunity it is.
Then we tweak things on-the-fly to support the type of exit hook we've got on our hands to ensure we don't lose any energy and can start next time with a Bang!
A mystery needs a central question that remains unanswered but also at least three details to start player speculation.
Physical danger gets covered by your game system. Use 3 Combat Stories to further enhance this exit hook type. (see RPT 1,158 | How Can You Make Combat Flow?)
Revelations also need three details, but at least two details should contradict each other.
Trigger planning with details that are accurate so players feel confident spending time crafting a plan.
Combat events are best built up with a clue give out in each prior round about the possibility or likelihood of the event happening (e.g., a crashed vehicle on its side starting to burn precedes a session-ending explosion).
Surprise NPCs drop-in best with a simple backstory that explains their timing and situation.
We want to tweak our encounter mid-stream to support the specific type of exit hook we're working with.
With some hooks you need to intensify the danger. Increase the threat, even if it's just perception.
And other hooks need details. True or false, complete or otherwise.
Regardless of type, you want to end mid-encounter in a place where players are on the edge of their seats eager to find out what happens at the start of next session.
You can achieve this in three steps:
- End your session mid-encounter
- Spot a great moment during the encounter to pause the session
- Leverage your exit hook to end precariously
Over to You
Give this a shot and let me know how it goes.