Fix Session Problems Before Game Day By Doing This Simple Exercise

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0985

Post-mortem is Latin for after death. At work, I’ll run post-mortem meetings after projects to learn how we can do better next time.

You can do the same for your campaigns. After each session or milestone, have a group discussion about what everyone is enjoying so far, where there might be friction, and what could be tried so everyone has even more fun at every game.

However, what if you had a time machine and could fix problems before they occurred?

I call this doing a pre-mortem.

People at work don’t have much appetite for this, alas. A stitch in time saves nine, as they say.

Why not brainstorm possible fail points and be proactive?

The answer I usually get is, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

The good news is we don’t have to wait for our campaigns to short circuit before acting.

Instead, we can do a pre-mortem.

We can fix something before it becomes 1d4 issues.

Easy Pre-Mortem Analysis

For me, it comes down to two questions:

  1. What’s failed in the past that I can take care of right now, before game night?
  2. What decisions are players likely to make?

Be Conscious

If you don’t have regular group discussions on improving your campaign, then make a point of being aware during sessions of problem areas.

This can get tricky as you multitask. However, a silent timer with reminder to breathe and be present every half hour works wonders.

I keep Campaign Logger open or a notepad handy and write down anything that seems to be a sticking point.

  • Room conditions, table and chairs arrangement
  • Props, minis, sounds, lighting
  • Rule arguments
  • Players with crappy spotlight moments
  • Cumbersome game procedures

Curate an ongoing list of problems and then fix what you can before next game.

Crazy Players

Here’s the primary point of today’s tip. Do a pre-mortem to preempt unexpected player decisions that could upset you or derail your plans.

For example, maybe the players don’t just get the adventure hook from the tavern and leave. Instead, they want to gamble and start a brawl.

If you can anticipate these situations then you can plan for them. Create some random generators in Campaign Logger, or brainstorm some ideas to wield.

This comes down to knowing your players and not making assumptions.

The latter is the killer.

Ask Why

Do a mental walkthrough of how you see next session unfolding, encounter by encounter.

When you imagine each player decision and each player action, ask yourself Why?

Why would the PCs talk with the stranger? Why would they take the hook? Why would they leave when you’ve identified other interesting NPCs in the place? Why would the encounter end right there instead of the characters doing what they did last time?

Half the time player craziness comes down to a little forethought and not expecting players to change their stripes. That player is always going to stir things up or open a random door. That player always wants to stop and roleplay with strangers. That player always looks for an excuse to roll initiative.

Likewise, think about what your players would say about you. That Johnn is always doing ______. That Johnn never does ______.

Sometimes, it might not be the players who are crazy….

Take five minutes today and do a pre-mortem for next session. What’s failed in the past that I can take care of right now, before game night? What decisions are players likely to make?

Let me know how it improved your game session.