With the new year, I started up a game of Underground as my way to break out of my slump. The results have been quite promising, and I am having a lot of fun running this game. Part of my pledge in breaking my slump was to shake things up and do things differently from how I have run games in the past. To that end, I implemented some new techniques for managing this campaign. One of those techniques includes a more formalized way of reviewing what happened during the session.

Consequences and Repercussions

Lots of things happen when you are running your session. The players create change through their actions and sometimes their inactions. These changes can alter, subtly or dramatically, the course of the campaign. For a campaign to have good continuity, changes which occur during a session need to be reflected in future sessions. When you have continuity, your players become more connected to the campaign, because they understand their actions have meaning.

When I run a session I like to capture any changes which occur on index cards. At the end of the evening I wind up with a small stack of cards with various scribbles on them. In previous campaigns, I would file these cards away and refer to them before prepping the next session, a week or two later. I wanted to change that up and be more deliberate about doing something with that stack of index cards. So I developed the…

Post Game Debriefing

I typically do the Post Game Debriefing the day after my session, while the session is still fresh in my mind. The process has the following steps:

Step 1: Digitize the Information

The first thing I do is scan all the cards into a PDF file using some scanning software for my iPad. Then I import it into OneNote in a page under the tab for the session. This way all my campaign material remains electronic and I can throw away the cards, reducing my campaign’s carbon footprint (seriously..that sentence is just for fun. I drive an 8 cylinder 1972 Chevy Nova that uses only regular gas. Not really, its a Saturn ION. But I digress.)

Step 2: Extract The Changes

The next step is to review all the cards in OneNote. Each set of session notes are a single tab, and I create a new page for the Post Game Debrief. On that page I record each change as a single line. Typically the changes I find when I go through my cards are:

  • New NPC’s – A lot of NPC’s are created during the course of the session, either by me or by players. Typically this is just a name and a role, perhaps a few tags.
  • New Locations – Much like new NPC’s, there are times when either the players or I will create a new location within the setting. Often this is just a name, and a few tags for some description.
  • Events – When the players take actions in the game that have profound consequences, I note them since they will always have repercussions. Events are typically a sentence of what happened during the session.
  • Ideas – There are times as the game is progressing that one of the players says something, and it makes me think of something that I will want to bring up later in the session or the campaign.

Step 3: File Into Campaign Notes

After I have pulled out all the changes, I copy and paste them into the various sections of my campaign notes. In OneNote, I keep a tab for NPC’s, Locations, Events, etc. I want to file them into my campaign notes so that they will be centrally available for when I prep future sessions, and I won’t have to remember what session an NPC or event occurred within.

Step 4: Develop

After everything is logged into my campaign notes, I then go through each one and develop it further than what was initially captured. Each one gets a slightly different treatment:

  • New NPC’s – Depending on the importance of the NPC, I will either give them stats, or just flesh out the information I have for them so that I know where they are from, looks, personality, etc.
  • New Locations – Locations are always given a geographical point of reference, be it by map or by description. I will also flesh out the description and if I can relate it to any existing NPC’s I will do so, or create a new NPC if needed.
  • Events – Events I elaborate on, by considering the consequences of the event. What will the NPCs and Organizations within the campaign do about this event. I look at the short-term consequences (things that I can use in the next session) as well as long-term consequences (things that will change parts f the main story of the campaign).
  • Ideas – For ideas, I take some time to brainstorm the idea into a paragraph or two. I elaborate on the initial idea and work it out in the context of the story. If the idea is going to be something I plan on using in an upcoming story, I will work on it longer than if it is something that I am considering for a session further in the future.

Seems Like A Lot Of Work…Is it Worth It?

Having done this now a few times, the process takes an hour or two depending on how long the session went. I have to say though, it has been worth it in terms of ideas generated and my general state of prep.

In terms of material for future sessions, I am able to take the events and ideas and work them into future sessions so that the campaign has a very realistic feel. For sure, if I was not working with the materials post-game, I would forget to attach consequences to some of the smaller things. Including those smaller consequences enriches the overall story.

As for my general state of prep, by taking those locations and NPC’s which have come up during the session and recording them and developing them, I am able to recall them when the players ask questions during a future session. I don’t sit there scratching my head wondering what the name of that store owner was. I have it recorded in the NPC section of my campaign notes and, having developed it further, the next time the PCs encounter her I have additional details to make her more realistic.

Conclusion

There is a tendency to take a break after you have run your session and worry about campaign management and session prep closer to the next session you are going to run. By taking some time shortly after your most recent session, while the details of it are fresh in your mind, you can mine a lot of campaign material without much effort. The material you do capture and develop will be strongly tied to the players actions, and will go a long way to create a richer and deeper campaign.

Do you have a post game ritual? Do you actively capture and review the events, NPCs, and ideas that are generated during your sessions? How do you capture them and use them in future sessions?

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.



6 Responses to The Post Game Debriefing

  1. Great article. I think I’m gonna start using some of these ideas in my own games since I don’t have any kind of a post game ritual.

  2. My version is to stay up late after the game, and/or dedicate the following afternoon, to going through my “as it happened” notes. Those notes are usually on one side of a sheet of paper, so the back side becomes the to-do list for next game. A new element for me is to type up the session summary for our Epic Words webpage, which can include rewards and xp tracking.

    My groups usually meet once a month, so once I put the to-do list to bed, I will spend the next week or so musing about how long-term plans have been affected by the PC actions, or what NPCs might put in place for their long-term things. As game day comes closer, I will focus in more closely on short-term things– the encounters for the next game.

    OR, since I am running two monthly games right now, I will set aside game #1’s to-do list until after game #2 has had its to-do list assembled. That way, I don’t have to think too hard to remember what happened last time.

  3. Great article. This is more or less what I aim to do, but I tend to leave it for a week and a half, and so I struggle to remember all the good stuff. I have just now booked in time the day after gaming to do it.

  4. I’m not this formal, and it shows. I’m sure that if I started working through a formal process like this, I’d capture more locations, NPCs, and plot hooks. It seems well worth trying!

    • My intent was not to be so formal as it was to be very deliberate in this action. How you do a post-game review should be determined by the individual GM based on style and such.

      I am just advocating that doing it right after the session and using some kind of format or process will yield good results.

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