How To Create Engaging Session Recaps To Get Players Ready To Play

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1215

Brief Word From Johnn

Thank you to everyone who sent along birthday wishes. I had a great day and got to spend extra time working on my campaign, which is always a treat!

In Wizard of Adventure news:

Roleplaying Tips readers, note you can purchase the Escape Room 5 Room Dungeon Template on DriveThruRPG here.

In today’s issue of the Roleplaying Tips Newsletter we have:

  • Brief Word From Johnn
  • Feature
    • How To Create Engaging Session Recaps To Get Players Ready To Play
  • Reader Tips of the Week
    • When Tweaking Rules…
    • Flooded Dungeon Map
    • Monsters of the Multiverse Inspiration
    • How to Introduce New People to Roleplaying?

Let’s dive in!

How To Create Engaging Session Recaps To Get Players Ready To Play

From Johnn Four

At session start, we need a simple way to get players focused on the game. Most of my sessions begin with chat chat as everyone catches up on personal stuff since we last met. If we do not have a clear signal we’re leaving the real world and entering the game world, then our session start gets muddy and feels awkward as half the group has begun to roleplay and the other half still chat about the latest work drama.

A fantastic solution to herd the cats, signal clear session beginning, and get players leaning forward ready to engage is the session recap. Today we’ll dig into three tips on how to make great session recaps.

Make a Bullet List to Improvise From

Session recaps not only give us a consistent way to initiate transition to in-game thinking. We can also use them to practice our improv skills.

Instead of writing a prose recap, which takes time and energy, use a bullet list instead. When recapping, scan one bullet at a time and turn in into a mini-story to make it more interesting.

A mini-story, or Plot Seed as I call it in the Adventure Building Game Plan, consists of:

  • One or more characters in a location or situation
  • Who have a goal, want, or need
  • An obstacle that blocks the goal and how things turned out after confronting the obstacle

Example Recap

From session two of my Basilica campaign:

  • Bartram kills sneaky snake, defending the caravan
  • Bartram trains young Andel while father suspiciously watches
  • Thuridan cooks awful snake (fumble)
  • Spencer gets an awkward marriage proposal
  • Bartram befriends monkey thief
  • Spencer solves road washout

Session two was about the caravan travelling to Fairehill. Those bullets won’t mean much to you, but they’ll evoke memories and get everyone into character and ready to continue the journey.

Each bullet I would improvise into a mini-story at start of session three. For example, “Thuridan cooks awful snake”:

That evening, after the snake attack, Thuridan tries his hand at cooking. An old elven recipe he called it. To show off his cooking skills and honor the beast and Bartram.

Unfortunately, the dish tasted awful and made some folk queasy. While no permanent damage was done, it will likely be awhile before anyone doesn’t throw food offerings out from Thuridan when he’s not looking.

How does that mini-story map to our story elements?

  • One or more characters in a location or situation: Thuridan is the hero (or villain, heh) of this story, with link to Bartram.
  • Who have a goal, want, or need: “show off his cooking skills and honor the beast and Bartram.”
  • An obstacle that blocks the goal: [fumble] “the dish tasted awful and made some folk queasy.”

It takes but moments to bullet out highlights for the previous session. By bulleting then improvising into mini-stories, we improve our storytelling skills and get players engaged.

Start With a Declaration

This is a personal choice. You could clap your hands, yell, ring a bell, or start rolling dice until everyone notices. I prefer something loud and clear that cuts through the noise and gets everyone’s instant attention. This reduces trailing conversations and presents a clear declaration that the session has begun.

For my Basilica campaign, I give players a few minutes to log into Zoom and chat. As we only have three hours per session, and it’s virtual, I like to get going sooner than later to maximize gameplay time.

So when I’m ready, I interrupt and say “it’s time to start the game with a brief recap.” Then I launch into my bullet list and improv mini-stories.

Over time, this becomes a ritual. Players expect it and will snap into character faster with less herding needed.

Highlight Each Player

Notice how each bullet in my recap starts with one or more characters. I start each mini-story with what characters were involved. This instantly gets the attention of the players. If I’m running Bartram and I hear Bartram’s name being mentioned, I’m going to pay attention because they’re talking about me.

This approach also serves new campaigns well by reminding players of who the characters are and their names. Another trick to get players into character and thinking the game, leaving real world stuff behind.

Beginning each bullet with character name also gives you instant evaluation of spotlight balance. If you see one name coming up more often, or name(s) missing, then let that prompt you to restore the spotlight balance this session.

In my session two recap above, I see Thuridan needs some GM screen love in session three.

End with Choices & Action

Remind everyone what their focus should be, at least at session start. Point to the cliffhanger from last session or the current quest or situation.

Two goals with session starts are:

  • Keep players on their current vector
  • Build energy and excitement for what’s coming up

We want to avoid planning or intention regression. That’s where the party sets upon a particular path, then thanks to the real-world time gap between sessions, players change their minds.

It sucks when a session starts with a drop in energy because what some folks thought was the plan is now being questioned and debated again. A session stall at the beginning is so frustrating!

So we want to create implied consensus. And we can be sneaky about this by integrating it into our session recap:

  • Place something specific and interesting at the players’ feet right from the start so they feel urgency to act instead of debate
  • Remind them they are in the middle of something, implying it’s too late to change their mind
  • Get the group together again, mentally, by stating their common goal

For example:

“Ok, so we ended with the road washout and Spencer’s quick thinking. He suggested diverting and diluting the water flow so wagons could get past the washout.

“With Bartram’s stonework expertise, you build a quick roadside wall and the caravan safely traversed the hazard. Well done.

“Which leads us to where you are at right now. You’re still heading to Fairehill to add Brohn and Aurora with their fort construction for The Baron. And as you’re setting up camp for the evening with the sun slowly dipping below the horizon, the scout returns with a disturbing report of trouble nearby!”

Notice the transition. That’s the key from switching from past to present and officially kicking off gameplay. By saying “Which leads us to where you are at right now” I’ve got an easy transition from the previous session to the current one and players are focused on their choices and actions in the here-and-now.

Create Your Recap at the End of the Session

Here’s a trick that works very well. Immediately at session end, write your recap. It’s only a few bullet points. And bullets are fast to write. So this doesn’t take you long to do.

why do this?

  • It gently transitions YOU from gamespace back to reality
  • You get to evaluate spotlight balance well before next session, giving you time to make plans
  • Details are fresh in your memory
  • You have a great recap to update your Loopy Plans with

Write your recap immediately after sessions so it gets done, you don’t forget something important, and to help guide your next session’s prep.

It’s Your Turn

Install this practice into your GMing. Make an end-of-session checklist, and add Write Recap Bullets to it.

At minimum, write one or two word bullets immediately at session end so you have a solid start for detailing more later.

Start bullets with character name(s) so you make your recap player-centric, and to help you evaluate spotlight time.

Begin each session with a strong declaration or signal the game’s starting.

Improvise a mini-story from each bullet using the Character => Goal => Obstacle => Outcome pattern.

End your session recap with interesting choices facing the party right now.

Then begin your session with a bang!

Article Bang! Why The Start Is So Important

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Tips, ideas, and inspiration from your fellow RPT GMs.

When Tweaking Rules…

Wizard of Adventure @ExileInParadise posted this in Discord chat that I thought was a good tip:

As far as balance – I’ve always preferred the True Neutral approach. For every point given somewhere, a point is taken away somewhere else.

You do not put your thumb on the scale and not have the scale balance later.

Flooded Dungeon Map

RPT GM Dean Gkane got 3rd place in a dungeon map contest and gave me permission to share the map out. Congrats Dean! Download the map from Art Station or directly from my server here.

Monsters of the Multiverse Inspiration

From RPT GM Robert Creedon

Think of your Monster Manual or beasties as a cast of characters for your story lines. You might even have a player or 2 who enjoy reading about the write ups of those creatures.

In those writeups, look for story hooks. There are creatures with just beastie qualities. But others have nice back stories that can create wonderful plots.

The key is what you can think of as you read some. This article will just suggest some ideas as we go through the Monsters of the Multiverse book. I suggest as you read through, have post-its to put those ideas in your books. Here we go.


This is a wizard who fails to become a lich and ends up serving evil. This is the ideal for a sociopath or psychopath who gains power or a weapon of evil against their bullies or whatever.

You have all kinds of mysteries and storylines based on whom it bonds with. Could it be a crimelord, psychopath or a bullied teen or slave?

This storyline can have false scapegoats to protect, mobs to avoid or fight, or even multiple villains who could have this evil working for them that all needs to be investigated.


These creatures end up being henchmen or thugs for others as they need to hide in the shadows and be sheltered in the dark. That relationship means they can be enlisted by anyone to create yet another level or more encounters to your storylines.

I used them as smugglers and thugs to protect other operations by my bad guys. They can be enlisted by anyone, so they are not giving too much information without interrogation and investigations.


These are warlocks who have been subjugated to more powerful creatures. They can be inserted anywhere in your storyline. They can have anyone as a patron so again another henchman or encounter before the “big bad”.


These are demons that possess corpses and then terrorize mortals. Think of an evil annoying creature that can cause havoc for the party. The players can rid this for someone else or if it terrorizes them directly.

Sea Spawn

These are creatures controlled by other sea creatures but come from fanatics who give their children or the elder to be new sea spawn. This is removing a curse or removing the fanatics from a region. There are multiple stories that they can be the basis of.

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How to Introduce New People to Roleplaying?

From RPT GM Philip:

Do you have any advice for introducing someone to roleplaying for the very first time? I would love some of your thoughts for PCs and GMs alike to help make the roleplaying table a welcoming place for beginners.

I’m currently a PC in a group where one PC is brand new to roleplaying and another is brand new to the system (and also very new to roleplaying).

I read your article “Tips For a Player’s First Session” which is great advice to give to the new player, but I’m hoping for some specific ideas for the rest of the group and GM.

That being said, I have come alongside the new players somewhat and helped them learn their own rules and make cheat sheets.

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Hey Philip!

I don’t have anything specific on the topic of what the group can do to welcome the new player. [RPT GMs, do you have any tips or links? Please hit reply if you do. Thanks!]

But there are a couple of tips in these archive issues that might be of interest:

I hope this helps.