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TTRPG Stock Sessions — Flashback and Memory

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Salutations, nerds! Today I’m going to examine the concept of stock sessions for tabletop roleplaying games. In particular I’m thinking about the idea of delving into a character’s memories and exploring their backstory a little bit in a flashback! A stock session for a TTRPG is reusable scenario a Game master can plug into campaigns that still feels different because of the specific characters involved. Think of it kind of like how a good chunk of anime have a beach episode. That’s what I mean.

Cue the TTRPG flashback session sequence

The TTRPG stock session I’m focusing on is whereby some method the group experiences defining moments in the past lives of the characters as a peek into a memory, whether it’s a good one, a bad one or even more than one. This technique can be done a lot of different ways but the important qualifier is the players get to take a moment to describe things that happened in their characters’ pasts. Here are some of the decisions to make going into a session like this.

Can everyone see the flashback or not?

The very first thing to decide for a flashback session is whether or not the whole party can see each other’s memories. I prefer they all share the experience because then the characters — not just the players — can have conversations about it but doing it different is completely all right. Using a flashback stock session for a single character creates a sense of dramatic irony between the players and sometimes even makes them want to talk about these things in character. It can be interesting to see who among them talks about what they just experienced and who keeps their silence.

Deciding to include the whole party in a flashback or not is the first step and informs the next decision.

What’s causing the flashback?

Does everyone in the party touch a ball and experience the same memory flashback together? Is it like the Pensieve in Harry Potter’s wizardly world? Is there a fey asking to be privy to memories in exchange for some boon? Is this a situation where wild magic causes things from the characters’ pasts to come back and hunt them?

Alternatively, is there a more mundane situation? The goliath in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons have a game where they drink and tell stories and go around in a circle to see who can tell the best one in spite of their growing drunkenness. Perhaps the situation is something like this and the stipulation is the the story has to be true. In this case it can be interesting to see what memories the characters volunteer to share as opposed to the players.

Other session considerations

In a situation involved entities from the past coming back to hunt characters there’s probably going to be combat involved and it’s important to work closely with the players. This creates a great opportunity for player agency and gives a GM time in advance to be prepare what to set the characters up against.

I’ve found TTRPG players tend to love this particular stock session because a flashback provides them a chance to show their characters off, give them some depth and showcase their backstories in a way that doesn’t come up too often. Ordinarily a game session involves the GM telling the players what happens and them deciding how their characters react to it and a flashback session breaks the mold a little bit, allowing more player agency at the table.

Have you ever run TTRPG players through a flashback session? How do you feel about it when a GM brings one like it out for you? Please tell me about it in the comments below and as always, stay nerdy!

Robin Miller

Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Robin Miller lives in southern Ohio where they keep mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. They have a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and they are happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Their fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

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