Better Session Kick-Offs — The Warm-Up Trick

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1087

Here’s a quick tip about session warm-ups.

I don’t know about you, but it takes a good 15 minutes or more for my players to say hi, shed the day’s energy, and get their head into their character.

Sometimes it takes longer.

I don’t mind because it gives me the chance to get my head into the adventure and game as well.

However, for short sessions, I like the social period to be quick, else we lose precious gameplay time.

To get your players into the game faster, try asking a warm-up question.

This is a non-essential question any player can answer as a way to herd their thoughts into the game at hand.

It also helps engage players ready to go, and gives a strong hint to players still ranting about their boss, traffic, or the Game of Thrones series finale.

You could ask any question, but why not choose one that helps you dial in on player kicks and group preferences?

For example, here are a couple of multiple choice questions from Caleb, a friend at work:

Group Dynamic

What theme best describes your group of characters?

  • Professional thieves stealing the impossible (Ocean’s 11)
  • Mercenary band hired out for good or evil as long as the price is right (Berserk)
  • Last protectors of the realm on a mission (Avatar: Last Airbender)
  • Informal everyday happenings (Seinfeld)
  • Heroes out to right every wrong they come across (Justice League/Super Friends)
  • A group of strangers stranded, trying to survive and understand their surroundings (Beast Wars)
  • Disgraced heroes who are hunted while still trying to do the right thing/clear their name (Spiderman/X-Men)

For existing campaigns, I like this question because it can reveal an identity conflict between players.

One player envisions the party as a Seinfeld sandbox while another thinks of your campaign as Justice League missions.

Uncovering that difference could help unify the group. It would make certain decision-making faster, and help you design hooks, encounters, and situations that match your players’ expectations.

You could also use this question to help give a floundering campaign an identity or Razor to galvanize purpose and action.

Campaign Milieu

What is your favourite setting?

  • Steam punk
  • Feudal/Medieval and grounded in reality with mystical elements
  • Near-future cyber punk (Akira, Ghost in the Shell)
  • Alien exploration (Star Trek)
  • Primeval (Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Primal”)
  • Super hero/fantasy in contemporary settings (Pixar’s “The Incredibles”/”Onward” or “One Punch Man”)
  • Inside the human body (Osmosis Jones)
  • On the open seas (Pirates of the Caribbean/One Piece)
  • Animal society (Zootopia)

This question helps you build your world.

For an existing campaign, the trick here is to use answers to discover tropes you can add into gameplay.

For example, you might be running gritty sword & sorcery. And a player answers “Super hero.”

That sounds like the wrong tone. But you can add almost any trope to any campaign element.

You do not have to re-theme your entire campaign.

Instead, pick one person, place, or thing, and give it the trope to hook into your player’s interest.

So you check super hero tropes and like the sound of Badass Cape.

A quick idea might be a magic item. You put it on a villain’s lieutenant, who now looks larger and more imposing. You give the NPC a motto: “Respect the cape!”

You’ve fleshed out an important NPC a bit this way, and given your player a clear invitation to put a target on this NPC’s back, er, cape.

What Discovery Would You Like To Make?

You might not like those example questions. And I used the multiple choice format to illustrate a range of potential learnings. But open ended questions work best.

There must be something you’d love to learn about your group’s preferences.

I always enjoy feedback on how a campaign is going, as well.

So take a minute now to think up a few questions. Have them ready next session and pick one to get players chatting and shifting their focus from boring real life to exciting game space.

Some additional ideas:

  • Read any good fiction lately? What have you enjoyed the most and why?
  • What magic item do you think your character needs most right now?
  • What game systems are on your bucket list to play?
  • That last combat was crazy, but it took so long. How do you think we could make big battles faster?

How’s the current mix of encounters for you? Would you prefer more or less roleplay, combat, dungeon crawl…..?