End Each Session With Your Next Encounter
I used to fear session starts. Or rather, I’d over-prep for them and stress out feeling like I still wasn’t prepared enough.
That’s because I didn’t know what direction the party would go in. So I tried to account for every contingency.
Then I figured I’d get smart and “profile” my players to guess what they’d do. This worked sometimes, but not always. Actually, it didn’t work very often. Because even when I guessed right, like the party would go back to town or forge ahead into the vampire lair, they’d catch me off-guard by their approach.
Party: Ok, we’re going into the lair.
Johnn: Haha! I knew it!
Party: But rather than solving the door puzzle, we’re getting out the bard’s magical digging claws and we’re going through the walls.
Ok, maybe I should’ve seen this one coming (I didn’t). I gave them the claws as treasure, after all (they looked like giant lobster arms and were great fun).
But like when you toss a die at someone and it inevitably lands straight into their drink like a proton torpedo into the reactor core, players somehow do THE ONE THING that trashes your plans. In this case, the vampire’s lair was a perfectly round sphere with frictionless walls only the critter could climb with Slippers of Spider Climbing.
But thanks to the hole and debris, the party gained an easy beachhead, making the encounter a lot easier than it should’ve been and a bit of a letdown.
However, as a silver lining, this experience spawned my Player Dossier and Treasure Table methods.
So what do I do now to herd player chaos and prevent a bad session beginning?
I end each session by starting the next encounter.
This gives me 100% clear direction on what to prep for the first encounter of every session. As I talk about in Ingredients To A Successful Game Session, I aim to start sessions fast and with exciting conflict. As Sly Flourish would say, start with a bang! And because I know exactly what the party’s doing at session start, I can prep accordingly, with total confidence.
As for the rest of the session, that’s another story. 🙂
Another huge boon when you end a session by triggering the next encounter is you create natural cliffhangers. You don’t finish the encounter you just started. You only open it. Players will have to wait until next session to find out what happens!
After taking a GMing break during covid for a couple of years, I’ve lost this habit and it’s bitten me in the d20 a couple times in my Basilica campaign. So I’ve got a reminder set and am updating my session checklist.
If you struggle with session openings and preparing for them, take up the practice of ending each session with your next encounter.
Have more fun at every game!
P.S. Wizards of Adventure, I have some additional thoughts on how you can amp up today’s tip even further. You can use an encounter’s timeline to pick the perfect spot for an epic cliffhanger. Keep an eye out in your inbox for an email titled “(Extra Tip) Cliffhangers – End Each Session With Your Next Encounter”.
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