- In this episode, we are going to talk about how you can use the start your session and hook your players. This is STA Engage
Welcome to the show. I’m your host, Dr RPG, Jeff Harvey. Last episode we talked with Jim Johnson about KLINGONS!!!!! It was a great episode, and you want to run a Klingon game, or just breathe a little more life into your Klingon characters and NPC’s, you really need to check that one out.
In this episode, we are going to talk about things you can do to help start your sessions to jump start your players RP motors, questions you can ask at the end of your session to keep your players thinking, and how you can use the time between sessions to motivate them for the next session.
But, before we get into all that, please welcome, once again, my illustrious co-host, the luminous Micheal Dismuke.
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How to start the session:
Chat a little. We try to gather a little early so we can just chat. Jumping right in is fine sometimes, but, especially in these “interesting times”, you need to remember to just spend a little time talking to, and listening to your friends. Take a little time before your games to unwind, check in, and hang out.
Do a recap…more to the point, make the players do the recap.
This way you get to see who paid attention, and what they paid attention too.
You end up not giving too much story away if the players missed something, or saw something you different than you had planned
This is a great way to adapt your story…sometimes the players seeing things that aren’t there creates a better story than you had originally planned.
Try to make sure everyone has some input on the recap. Don’t let the players designate a single “note taker” for the table.
Ask some questions, prompt them if needed. I like to ask “does anyone have anything else, or is that it?” It’s a simple question, and seems obvious, but it works.
During the recap, let them make jokes, loosen up, and tell the story their way. It will help keep the silly down when you start.
Do a “Cold Open” (MD—I created one-page Teasers that act as Show Openers)
Write a cold open scene. This is basically the bit of the show that happens before the opening credits roll.
You can use it as a teaser, or just a little RP that gets things started.
You can drop a minor cliff hanger, or have an admiral give a briefing to the captain.
The sky’s the limit, but this is generally a short scene. If you are writing a “script”, think 1 or 2 pages at most. Keep it short…if it goes more than 5 minutes, it’s probably too long.
This MIGHT seem a little “rail roady”, but you can force this scene to follow a script if needed. I don’t, but I will keep it short, or narrow in scope and scale, just to keep it “on the rails”.
The cold open is NOT supposed to derail your plot… it’s just a warm up…but it can also set up a strange episode.
You can have the crew on the bridge in the middle of a red alert, a ship appearing on screen… the players act, but it’s too late, the ship hit your starboard nacelle and your warp core is about to breach. A few tense seconds, a quick die roll… “ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP. REPEAT, ALL HANDS AB……” BOOM
Or, it can be as simple as the Doctor feeding his captive specimens in sick-bay. A Klingon trying Prune Juice for the first time, or a group of the crew headed to the holodeck.
It can even introduce the central conflict of the episode…like when Dax’s mysterious former lover shows up, or Sisko wakes up in the 1950’s…
After the cold open, take a beat. If it was a dramatic scene, let it sink in. If it was a mysterious lover, let the other players “whoop it up” a little, or a sisko seeing himself as Benny, let everyone wonder WTF is up. Even if it’s just the Doctor feeding some critters…”let the moment breathe”
Do a captain’s log….this is a GREAT way, an ICONIC way to open your story.
The GM should, generally, write the “background” needed to set the first real scene
Give it to the Captain, if it’s a player. Give it to them at least a day before the session if you can. Let them re-write it in their own words. Answer questions, if you can without spoiling anything, so that they can know a little going into the first scene.
The Captain’s log can be a good contrast to the cold open. It lets players settle back into things
Remember, distracted players are disruptive players. Use the hang out time, the cold open, and the captain’s log to settle things down in stages.
Make it short… less than 100 words…really…like one paragraph is about ideal.
Leave the end kind of “vague”…less vague really, and more “open” so the captain can start the first scene how they want, on the bridge, in their ready room, their quarters, the conference room… whatever.
Let the captain, or a crew member set the first scene.
Let them lay it out, start the RP, drive the narrative.
This isn’t always possible of course. Not every story lends itself to this sort of opening… but when it does, let it flow.
I also have an official opening sequence to get them in the mood. https://youtu.be/tfRH6FOqTYg
I don’t have a full sequence, but I do have a theme song and voice over…maybe I should add some video to those…
One final thought on starting your game: Don’t be afraid to jump in, make a splash, confound expectations. You can get a lot of tension built in the first 30 seconds of a session. Alternatively, if you’re trying for a more laid back tone, pace out the open a little longer. It’s ok to not end every scene on a cliffhanger. Sometimes players just want to feel like life aboard the ship has some normalcy before they are ripped from their quiet world and plunged into the swirling uncertainties of space.
Your open sets the tone that your players are going to expect to be reflected in the episode. But… that doesn’t mean that tone can’t suddenly shift. This can be a tricky tightrope to walk. You can always ramp up tension, but it’s hard to walk it back. It can be jarring to blow the ship on in the cold open, only to come back after your “intro credits roll”, everything to be back to normal. It works for TV because you have that 90 second intro and another 90 seconds, or more, of commercials for the audience to settle down. But that “Jarring” feeling your players get, is going to linger. Use it.
Whatever you do in your opening, have that story beat, that tonal setup, the minor fall or the major lift… use it to compose the story, and grab your players, or set them up with a false sense of security. The opening 30 seconds of your session should not simply be left to chance. You only get one shot… don’t miss your opportunity and mess up the flow.
And on that note, we are gonna call it a wrap. Next time, we are going to get into a topic that changed the way I run my games forever… Wrapping up your session, and getting your players thinking about their characters between sessions.
So tune in next time for: Lessons, Part 2 or Well, whadda know!
Until then, If you like what you hear, and you want to help this show, share this episode with one other person who might enjoy what we’re doing. I’m your host, Dr RPG Jeff Harvey, and on behalf of myself, my co-host Michael Dismuke, and everybody that works behind the scenes, Live Long and Prosper.
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