3 Tips For Better Sessions

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1082

I came across this post on a blog called Semper Initativus Unum and enjoyed some of the points the poster made.

Today, I thought I’d share my three favourite ideas from that post along with some commentary, with a focus on what we can do to make our sessions even better.

Make a balanced world, and then throw off-kilter weirdness into it.

….weirdness stands out better against a more prosaic backdrop than in a sea of unending oddity.

But it’s not just a sea of bland, it’s interrupted in real and strange ways.

I like the concept of a balanced world. This might just be semantics, but for better sessions I’d aim to create a milieu in balance, then enter the characters and villains to disrupt that balance.

The nuance here is you don’t try to restore balance. You don’t GM a balanced setting. Instead, you play to find out what happens to the world and the peoples in it.

As for adding weirdness, that is a cool idea. Depending on your campaign theme, change weirdness to:

  • Wondrous
  • Mysterious
  • Surprising

Present players with people, places, and things that stand out against your background setting as beacons of adventure.

For example, create some world wonders

Go for the outliers more often.

Poorest, richest, toughest, weakest, fastest, slowest, oldest, newest.

Great sessions await at the outer edges.

The hidden parts of the world contain danger and wonder, often side by side.

This is why I like OSR style gaming. You find amazing stuff sometimes, but either it’s trying to kill you or its owner is.

A great reminder to marinate your campaign in threats and conflicts.

If you start with campaign Dangers, then peel your adventures and hooks from those, you are guaranteed to fill sessions with excitement.

Too often we go in reverse. Then we get in trouble filling the Infinite Game with challenges that tie your campaign together like a good rug should.

For example, you might start bottom-up with a fishing village.

Great, now what?

You decide a tribe of sea devils will be a tough enemy. Some encounters with the creatures harassing the fisherfolk. Then eventually off to sea devil central for an epic boss fight.

But what if you took a step back and saw the sea devils as a campaign Danger? Then add weirdness. Then figure out what your campaign or first adventure is about.

The sea devils might have grand plans for the subjugation of all land walkers. Maybe aboleths run the show behind the scenes. Perhaps the aboleths want to establish control of the whole the region because the mind flayers are coming.

This information, for me at least, changes the entire complexion of the campaign.

Instead of Settlement => Enemy => Boss, we have a grand scheme to draw upon for encounter ideas and wondrous session moments.

Always offer meaningful choices.

Have at least two viable options open to the PCs, and a reason to choose or not choose at least one of them.

We make choices meaningful by offering Stakes.

Stakes come down to Objective vs. Danger.

What do the characters want, and what’s standing in their way?

And I like the advice of having at least one reason why the party would take and avoid each choice.

Those reasons come down to Risk vs. Reward.

Each choice should present a Risk generated by some aspect of the Danger. What happens if there’s failure or partial failure?

And each choice should have some Reward that speaks to the party’s motives. What happens if there’s success or partial success?

For example, the characters learn a sea devil priest must be in the area. If they can capture the holy fishperson they might finally get some answers.

But the party knows nabbing a piscine spellcaster poses no easy task.

Failure: Retribution from the sea devils against the fisherfolk. Possible character death. Amped up defenses for next time.

Success: Sea devil rescue attempts and retaliations. Dilemma of a possible prisoner trade. New priest(s) deployed by HQ.

Just having these ideas ahead of time helps you GM smarter sessions.

Fantastic Session Ingredients

Here’s our recipe for an even better next session:

  • One world out of equilibrium to keep characters hopping
  • Mysteries and weirdness to engage players
  • Threats and conflicts to make the party’s path fraught with peril
  • Stakes, Objectives, Dangers, Risks, and Rewards to give your friends a lot to think about and make gameplay more meaningful

What do you do to spice up sessions? Hit reply and let me know.