BTTD #28: What Every Session Needs.

What Exactly Does a Session Need

When we sit around a table, there is one expectation that everyone has: we are going to tell a story.

Stories, regardless of your age or where you’re from, are vital to your existence and I think that’s why we love Tabletop and RPGs so much. (And yes, good Tabletop games tell a story—otherwise we wouldn’t bother theming them.)

So when people sit around the table there needs to be at least part of a story. (For more info around this—check out Story Grid—for story nerds only.) You don’t want people to leave the table without something happening in the story. But what exactly?

One: Tension

Here are the necessary ingredients to a successful session (it doesn’t have to be a complete adventure) to get the players clamoring for more.

Something risk has to happen and it either goes very wrong or very right. We want tension in our stories—we want to be on the edge of our seats wondering if the character is going to make it. It doesn’t matter how many Doctor Who episodes we watch. We still get tense when the Doctor is in danger, but the Doctor can’t just be oblierated! There are more episodes to go!

To add tension into the story you are telling, put the characters in a position where they have to take a risk:

  • Someone has to jump across the cavern and cross the abyss. Maybe they have to walk across a rickety rope bridge.
  • They have to charm their way out of a situation before someone is on to them.
  • A ritual has to go perfectly. Perfectly. And they have to guard it.
  • There’s a rooftop chase, but one of them is holding something very delicate that can’t break.

This is going to sound strange, but your players want stuff to go wrong. They want things to be difficult. If your players aren’t leaning forward at least some of the time—ratchet up the tension—complicate something. And here’s a little hint: it doesn’t have to make exact sense. We are playing “pretend.” This phrase might help: when in doubt a fire breaks out! That’s some tension.

Two: Forward Motion

The quest has to move forward at some point in the session. If it doesn’t, your players might feel they have wasted their time in the story and out of the story.

Whatever happens during the session, the players have to gain some kind of nugget of information. Maybe they know the next place to investigate, a new star system that has been “edited” off The Map for years or they finally know the identity of the villian.

Struggling DMs find that they have one solution that the players have to stumble upon and it’s always obvious to us, because we either read ahead or we designed the adventure.

But when you feel your players are frustrated, you have to give them something. Figure out another way—because stories are about making progress.

Don’t give them a linear path—because they will deter from it and get lost. Make your story have a wide berth and they will reward you. (Tales from the Loop does this well when teaching storytelling.)

Three: Give Them Something to Lose

There has to be some skin in the game and I learned this from teaching sales psychology—your players don’t want gold or riches.

Oh sure they do!

Nope. They don’t. They want something their players can do with the money—what can they turn it into

One of my games was about 80’s superheroes, and one player was constantly uninterested in the reward stuff. Now they played along, but their player was interested in only one thing: getting enough money to form her own school for teenage superheroes. Not more power or popularity.

So one of her rewards from the city was long line of abandoned warehouses. She was thrilled and in the next game session, she had some blueprints and plans.

If she didn’t complete the mission for the city, she’d lose the warehouses. Did she almost get killed? Yup. She finally had skin in the game and pushed farther.

Make sure these key ingredients are in your sessions and they will be clamoring for more.

The One Place to Keep Your Stuff

For those of you just joining the program, I used to write in the productivity space all the time. (ALLL THE TIME).

Right now I’m working on my little novel and I’ve been using a great program called Notion to keep track of my stuff and it’s great for running games. It’s a phenomonal digital organizer and I can’t recommend it enough for note taking, sharing files and just keeping your digital life organized. (And I used to be a heavy Evernote user.)

I’m thinking of making some tempates soon and I’ll share them here.

The Xbox Update

Last week I mentioned that I brought my Xbox controller into work and leave it there so that I could get more done during the week.

Here’s a newsflash: it worked!

I didn’t need to play Xbox at all and I’ve been reading a lot more. More gaming books! MOAR!

Play less video games and then you’ll read more books? Who knew?! I’m a freakin’ genius.

I’m going to keep this habit up and this week starts the week I hit the gym (which is a great anti-depressant.)

Have a good week, my nerds.

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