Checklist: Compelling Session Alerts - Roleplaying Tips

Checklist: Compelling Session Alerts

Here’s another way to get players more engaged and better prepared to game when they arrive.

It could also get more players showing up more often if you have that problem.

Send a message to your players a week before next session.

An alert.

But with added strategic pieces to make it a fantastic new tool in your GM Toolbox.

Why Write & Send Session Alerts?

By reminding players about an upcoming game, you get them thinking of your campaign.

When they arrive, they will already have details about the story and their character cycling in mental RAM.

This helps everyone get into character faster and remember where things left off for a snappier start.

If you make interesting Session Alerts, casual players will remember the fun they’d miss out on and clear their schedule to make time for the game.

You can also sort out pesky administrivia details before the game. Trigger reminders about levelling up, transactions, and rules questions. Then discuss and decide in advance so you have more game time for play.

Session Alert Pieces

Email is a fantastic medium for this. So I’ll use email in my examples.

Subject Line

The first win is your subject line.

Put the campaign name, session date, and your best hook in it.

Example: Terror in the Badlands: April 3. Finally meet Belak!

For players in multiple campaigns, the campaign name orients them fast.

The date even reminds players who don’t open the email.

And the hook builds excited anticipation for next game.

Quick Recap

Remind players what’s going on. Start big picture and end with last session’s highlights.

Keep this to a single paragraph of 1-5 sentences. Anything longer and players will tune out. If they tune out, they’ll stop reading your Session Alerts.

If you keep your Session Alert short, there’s also more chance you’ll keep doing it and receiving its benefits.

Example:

Under the tower, beneath the lost city, lies a strange garden. You battled goblins, tree creatures, and a crazed bugbear gardener. You were almost defeated by the twig swarms. And the last battle revealed that Felnor still lives!

Cliffhanger

End your recap with a cliffhanger.

If your game did not end on a cliffhanger, then here’s a great hack: turn the situation into a dramatic question.

Dramatic questions define a Conflict and a Stake. “Can you cross the dangerous wilderness and find the dungeon in time to rescue the merchant?”

That example did not end on a cliffhanger. The PCs are just travelling. But we can ask why they are crossing the wilderness and turn that answer into a Conflict (dangerous wilderness implies threats) and mission Stake (rescue).

If the game did not end with a cliffhanger, then take a look at the bigger picture. There must be some objective the characters pursue at an adventure or campaign level. Take that and turn it into a dramatic question-style hanging cliff.

We also want to remind ourselves to end sessions on cliffhangers as much as possible to keep players excited about coming back. Thinking about this every Session Alert will keep it in your RAM while GMing, and you’re more likely to spot cliffhanging opportunities as sessions near their end.

Example:

Under the tower, beneath the lost city, lies a strange garden. You battled goblins, tree creatures, and a crazed bugbear gardener. You were almost defeated by the twig swarms. Don’t forget that sneaky shadow goblin. And the last battle revealed that Felnor still lives! Can you defeat Belak and save Felnor before the giant tree absorbs him into its trunk?

Character Status

Here’s a tip I read the other day. Include party health in your session reminders to help players strategize before the game.

Not all sessions are about combat. So I added this Session Alert piece as Character Status instead of health.

What’s relevant about current conditions that players would want to remember to plan effectively?

It could be health. “Otto’s almost dead!”

It could also be situation, conditions, or instincts.

Perhaps a character is in the middle of a skill check, or is negotiating with an NPC, or stuck in a sandstorm. Maybe the character is sensing danger from the north.

I thought the health tip was a brilliant idea. It gets players thinking even deeper about your next session.

Example:

Otto is sorely wounded. Caster slots are depleted. The druid’s used up both wild shapes. And Belak has spotted you….

Logistics

Session Date
Session Time
Food
Travel Arrangements

Example:

Next Game: April 3, 6pm, in my dungeon. Who’s driving David?

Actions

End with stuff players can do before next game to help the session be even better.

Begin with a recap of what the players said they were going to do next at end of last game.

This helps you plan the an Explosive Encounter Start. It also reminds players so they don’t show up expecting to do something different.

Talk about:

  • Treasure identification
  • Treasure valuation
  • Treasure distribution amongst party members
  • NPC side chats
  • Speculations
  • Private Player-GM matters
  • House rules
  • Missed details
  • Points of friction with the group

We finish our Session Alert with Actions to get players engaged leading up to the session.

Example:

We need to confirm that the ally damage bonus works with ranged attacks. I forgot to mention, the spell scroll with Melf’s turns to dust when you cast it, Leander.

Assembling the Session Alert Pieces

Here’s all the examples put together into an email:

Subject: Terror in the Badlands: April 3. Finally meet Belak!

Recap: Under the tower, beneath the lost city, lies a strange garden. You battled goblins, tree creatures, and a crazed bugbear gardener. You were almost defeated by the twig swarms. Don’t forget that sneaky shadow goblin. And the last battle revealed that Felnor still lives! Can you defeat Belak and save Felnor before the giant tree absorbs him into its trunk?

Otto is sorely wounded. Caster slots are depleted. The druid’s used up both wild shapes. And Belak has spotted you.

Next Game: April 3, 6pm, in my dungeon. Who’s bringing chips this time?

We need to confirm that the ally damage bonus works with ranged attacks. I forgot to mention, the spell scroll with Melf’s turns to dust when you cast it, Leander.

That’s four paragraphs, mostly short. Sustainable if you don’t mind writing a little.

Campaign Logger GMs, use the Streams feature to publish your Session Alerts. Players can then have an awesome record of all past and present alerts for easy access anytime.

The Session Alert Template

Here’s our final Session Alert checklist:

  • Subject Line or Headline
  • Quick Recap
  • Cliffhanger
  • Character Status
  • Logistics
  • Actions

Aim to make the message as short as possible so you don’t burn out on them.

If you don’t play weekly, then send your alert about seven days before next session.

If you do play weekly, send it four or five days in advance. In this case, it’s less about the Recap and more about Logistics and Actions. Make it a practice to send a Session Alert before every game.