RPG game master player

Effective Habits for Beginning the Tabletop RPG Session

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Salutations, nerds! Today we’re going to be talking about effective practices for before the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game session begins. I’m sure you know what I mean. We’ve all had moments where we’ve been sitting around the table and the chitter chatter is happening and getting everyone in the mindset to actually start the game can be a hassle at best. There are a few handy tips and tricks to make the task a lot easier on both the Dungeon Master and the 5E D&D players.

RPG game master player
Whether you’re the Game Master or a player, play more games! [Art by Olie Boldador – Click image for more of his work]

Transitory time

By transitory time I mean the clear marker pointing out when you’re phasing from doing task A to doing task B. I know not many of us are actually driving to work right now, but picture the act of doing so. That’s transitory time — something you do between one task and another, resetting yourself and getting you into the mindset between what you were doing before and what you are doing now.

This kind of time between sitting around and hanging out with your friends, and actually playing the game, can be kind of hard to actually mark and realize it’s happening. I bring this up because it can be helpful to know exactly what’s going on here when you start the game. Your players have to reset themselves so having a few little rituals to take you from hanging out to playing can be super helpful to getting the players in the mindset to do what they came to the table to do in the first place.

Previously on…

By which I mean, rather than explaining what happened last time you played, have your players do it. Phrase it as a question and throw it to them to see what they remember about the last session you played. This gets them engaged and thinking about the campaign in an active way instead of a passive one, and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thrown this to my players and they’ve brought up things I myself have forgotten.

There’s one other very important thing that running a previously on does for you and your party: It tells you what your players specifically remember about the last session.

Yes, I know this sounds super obvious but really think about it. This is a vital tool you as a DM can use to make note of what parts of your game are important to your players and when you know what those things are you can use that as a benchmark for tailoring your sessions to what things your players are interested in doing.

I have a rogue in my group who always makes it a point to remind me of everything he stole the session before. He really likes the loot and he really likes the thrill he gets from being a master thief. So when he gets animated and talks about this part of the experience it’s easier for me to know it’s what he wants out of the game. I make a note of this and I work more things in for him to steal and make it a point to make these things more guarded.

Ask for certain stats

When we’re getting ready to play with the Chaos Crew in our monthly RPG Crate campaign, Nerdarchist Ted always asks us for AC, HP and passive Perception. When he asks us to throw this into our little Zoom chat window we know it’s time to settle in and get serious. It refocuses us, gets us looking at our character sheets and thinking critically not about who we are as people, but about who we’re going to become for the course of the session.

Not every campaign has you leveling up after every session of course. This is doubly important because these numbers change every month. But even if the numbers don’t change, asking your players to give you information about their characters gets them thinking in terms of the game world instead of the real one they were just chattering about.

A phrase indicating the game has begun

If you open with a certain line and you do it consistently it creates a sense of ritual. Humans love rituals. That’s part of why so many people go to church religiously.

No one? Shut up, I’m funny.

Anyway, if you begin every session with “And we join our heroes in the land of Faerun…” even something as simple as that feels like parting the curtain to give a glimpse of the stage behind it. Your players, your audience, know it’s time to be quiet and settle in for the story.

It draws a clear line. The transitory time is over, you are in character now. It’s time to get down to business. Time to slay your enemies and protect the defenseless. Or possibly murder them depending on the kind of adventuring party you are. I don’t judge.

So what are some of the things you use to start your sessions? Do you have little rituals with your table? Have they helped? Please let me know in the comments below, and as always, stay nerdy!

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Follow Megan R. Miller:
Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Megan R. Miller lives in southern Ohio where she keeps mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. She has a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and she is happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Her fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

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