Opening a session with a recap — a short summary of what happened in the previous session — is pretty standard practice, and it’s a good idea.
I’m sure there are other approaches, but I’ve seen three ways to handle recaps — and two of them have something odd in common: low player interest.
The three approaches I’m thinking of are:
1. The GM does the recap. In my experience, this tends to work the best. As the GM, you’ve taken notes, and because you had to prep for the current session, you’re obviously on top of what happened last time.
2. A player does the recap. Strangely, I’ve rarely seen this have good results. Players start with a handicap: even if they’re excited about the game, they didn’t have to prep for game day — so they’re less likely to have the last session fresh in their minds. (More on this one below.)
3. Session summaries are available online. I tried this a couple of years ago, and between 1/2 and 1/3 of my players read the summaries. As a timesaving measure, this approach wasn’t so hot.
In the first season of the Stargate campaign I’m playing in right now, our GM asked us to do the recaps. I and one other player took extensive notes, and I wrote session summaries for the game. Not only that, but a good recap was worth an Action Point — which, in d20 Modern, isn’t bad for two minutes of “work.”
And as far as I can tell, we all hated doing recaps. I know I didn’t enjoy it, and group enthusiasm for them seemed to go down steadily over time. And you know what? I have no idea why I didn’t enjoy doing them.
Based on that experience, and my experiment with writing summaries that didn’t tend to get read before games, I have to say that approach #1 is the most attractive and most successful option that I’ve seen. It doesn’t require much effort on your part (certainly less than writing session summaries), and it avoids the awkwardness of a lackluster recap.
Do your experiences line up with mine? If I’m right about player disinterest in participating in recaps being a fairly widespread thing, why do you think that is?
Yeah, I’d have to say that GM recaps are best for all the reasons cited. It also has the best feel to it. As a GM, you are the narrator, an objective, omniscient voice in the campaign. Like in a TV show, viewers expect to hear the narrator summing up what happened last episode. It tends to come off with more authority, and thus generate more interest, than when a player does it.
I agree with your point.
Actually one of the functions of the recap is to bring the group into the game’s focus. From my experience, I’ve found that during the time I make this short speech, the players make the transition from the a bunch of pals shooting the breeze to a group of ready players. So while they might not pay 100% attention when I start the recap, by the end, all the players are ready to start.
I agree that the GM recap is the best of the options. In a D&D campaign I was in last year, the GM would generally start the session with the question, “So! Who wants to recap?” There were a few problems with this approach.
The major sticking point was that it always fell to the same three guys.
The first guy took copious notes, and would go on to recite them, refusing to miss a single detail. He’d recount everything, going so far as to rehash every combat with each and every hit, crit, and fumble. This was boring for most, frustrating for the rest.
The second guy would try to sum up major plot points and give “just enough” for the other players to get keyed back in. Sadly though, his “just enough” wasn’t enough for everyone.
The third guy was too absent minded to pull off a coherent recap and would invariably wind up scratching his head and asking guy #1 “what happened again?”
I used to open up my games with “So! Who wants to recap?” too, but after seeing how aggravating it was from the player’s side I’ve abandoned that. There’s an unspoken understanding when it’s the GM (who has done all the prep work and knows what’s in store this session) who is giving the recap: he’s giving you everything you need to know. The GM is the only one who can provide the Goldilock’s Recap.
It’s the only one that’s “just right”.
I would agree this would have to be one of the GM’s duties. Players rarely get as into the background of the game as the GM does, for them it’s about what they do. Often they leave out important details that might actually become relevant to their characters. Often they forget anything another player has done, since it wasn’t them doing it.
When I’m running a game I try to make bullet point notes and make those available, but If it’s a recap at the beginning of a game then it’s almost best to follow the example of old action shows, or better yet battlestar galactica (new). Recapping the things which will most likely be relevant to this new session only.
As the DM, recap can be a really useful tool too. Yes, we’re all aware that railroading is a BAD THING, but since you’ve got the advantage, there’s a lot you can do to “nudge” your player’s memories, expectations, attention, etc… with the recap.
For example, if last time, your players got distracted by some innocuous comment made by a NPC about how the birds are flying south early this winter, and spent half their session time talking to local druids seeing if they could track down the source of the widespread abberant patterns in animal movements, you can gloss over or even ignore that part entirely in the recap, showing your players it isn’t important. Hopefully, if you don’t remind them, they won’t remember either.
Of course, all this assumes that you haven’t spend the week tailoring the adventure where their obvious interest lies.
Since we play 1x month and have a plot heavy story arc, recaps are essential.
We settled on doing the recap through Q&A. I ask each “character” a question or two and they respond.
We have found it helps players settle, reccollect details and get into things without lengthy exposition from the DM at the game’s start.
We also have a wiki where players place both a bullet-point core details summary of each session and a longer write-up.
Wow …. got to say, I’ve always been a strong proponent of players themselves giving the recap, and I always made a apoint to choose a different player each time to make sure no one player was “hogging” the spotlight. I also wanted to make sure that my players weren’t “handed” any information on a golden platter (I tend to run prett yinvestigation intensive games), but I think this discuession might have changed my mind.
There are some good points about the GM knowing what the “key elements” are and the idea of the GM carrying the responsability for the narrative of the story, and some GREAT points about how players might not appreciate the “When we last left our heroes …” duties.
I’ll defintiely try to shakes things up by giving the recap myself next session.
Look at that *snif* I’m growing !
as a DM, i’ve tried to write a fairly long recap which is posted via email and to the campaign website, and narrate a quick recap at the beginning of each session. as others have said, its a great opportunity to refocus the game on some core elements, and brush off any distractions from the last session which were going nowhere. i also really like writing them. i’ve found that my ability to write in general was much better when i *had* to write a page or two each week.
i’ve been playing in a GURPS campaign for the last year, being run by one of the other people in the group. its been really fun, and a welcome break from DMing myself, but he doesn’t recap well and it makes a huge difference. it takes us longer to figure out where we were and what we were doing, which leaves ample opportunity for early distraction, and some sessions never recover. we also lack any feel for the big picture of the campaign, which would be nice.
If these three things were mutually exclusive, I’d agree that the GM recap was the best choice. But they aren’t mutually exclusive.
I typically have anything from no written notes for the players to a one or two page synopsis (depending on my available time, need, etc.). This stuff doesn’t help much for the next session, because players don’t always read it, but it does help for later sessions–especially if the emerging stories are somewhat complicated. I’ve found that for a written note to be useful, it has to have a tiny bit of a flair to it. If I don’t have time to do it well, I don’t do it at all.
Next, we have a player recap, done as a group. This does two positive things, besides bringing them up to speed (somewhat). 1. It gets them thinking as a group. 2. It lets me know what they think happened. The latter may not be so useful for them, but it is tremendously useful to me. In fact, this is one of the easiest ways I know to get “backdoor feedback”.
I jump in and do an impromptu recap–adjusted on the fly for the recap they just did. That way, they get the benefit of my greater interest in remembering all the things that happened.
Finally, I’ve explained this in steps, but it works best when it happens collectively. They comment on something in the written notes (or a chicken scratch on their own notes). This gets the group running on a recap. I inject a few things. This sparks memories, and the players do more recapping. By the time we are done, they are ready to get going: “On yeah, we are gonna find that pirate and hang him from his own mast!” 🙂
Our recaps tend to be a discussion, springing from the campaign log, with a little “so, do you remember why we chased X up the stairs?” It’s not as authoritative as a GM recap, but we all coalesce into “enough recap, let’s play” at pretty much the same time using this system.
I’m reluctant to add it to the GM’s burdens, but you’re right that most players don’t do as well. The “refocusing” Rick mentions is a strong advantage of the GM doing the summary.
In the first season of the Stargate campaign Iâ€™m playing in right now, our GM asked us to do the recaps. I and one other player took extensive notes, and I wrote session summaries for the game. Not only that, but a good recap was worth an Action Point â€” which, in d20 Modern, isnâ€™t bad for two minutes of â€œwork.â€
Hence, I stopped asking the players to do them. Not sure why it was like pulling teeth. It seemed representative of a larger problem…the game wasn’t memorable or the players didn’t care?
I’m having a bad case of deja vu with this topic; I’d swear it’s been covered before but couldn’t find anything in the archives.
I have used the recap for sometime now, especially since my games in the past few years have been bi-weekly sessions. I find the re-cap is necessary to keep the players current on what has happened in the game.
When I first started using re-caps, I made the players do it, and it was like pulling teeth. They would only remember parts, they had incomplete notes, etc.
So for my current campaign, I do a recap for the players at the opening of each session. This way I can ensure that a full recap is done, I can ensure that any important points are mentioned, and I can use it as the opening, a la Star Wars, for the first scene.
I’ve never thought about it much. I usually start with, “so, where were we…?” Time for a change on my part.
Thinking about it, a good recap could also set the mood and keep the chatter down to a minimum. We game 5-7 hours every two weeks, so game time is precious.
I think the difference in quality is critical for a recap. Think of hearing a generic news report vs. hearing a well-told story. It should be brief but engaging, and set the stage for the next immediate scene. Kind of like the lead-ins to the Star Wars movies…
I keep my recap very brief:
1) Mention the most heroic thing the party did last time. One or two sentences at most.
2) Remind them of the most important discovery cruicial to the plot or most powerful magic discovered.
Because we play every other week, I have every hope that the players are vested enough in their individual character they can at least roughly remember the most important thing their individual character did.
If I need to fill in the gaps, I do so during game play with NPC advice or descriptions.
It probably does make a difference that we play 8-10 hours, but only every 6-8 weeks. It’s worthwhile for us to spend a good 5-15 minutes on a recap, since it’s not uncommon for the players to muddle events from several sessions. Instead of the Star Wars template, I use the recap that you see in some fantasy series, where the books may be coming out far apart. It’s important to at least touch on anything important, just to start the name recognition again. You don’t need that with a movie (or sessions closer together), because Lando shows up, and people remember.
My GM will give “quizzes” at the beginning of each session. XP is rewarded to the first person to shout out each correct answer. If listing is required we write on idex cards.
All the players stay involved and the recap is pretty fun. (You start to really pay attention to the details: names of minor NPCs, what color their sashes are, etc.)
I use a combination of 1 and 2. Someone mentioned “So where were we” and that’s pretty much how I start. It’s a nice phrase, too, in that it can be an honest question or it can be a rhetorical one. Case in point, tonight I’ll probably be using the rhetorical angle, as in, “Where were we, oh, that’s right, you’re all in jail.”
I think the GM really needs to lead the recap discussion, as that is the point that the players start to settle down and get into the playing groove. There’s no reason, in my mind, for the GM to be the only person talking, though. If the recap is more of a discussion, where the players are involved, then the GM can pick up on what the players focus is, and the players can be given hints about the GMs intended direction, if they differ.
Personally, I think it goes a bit too far to start treating your players like they’re a class, calling on different people and giving quizzes, but that’s just me. My players are my friends, and the game is as much about hanging out with friends as it is playing a game. Not saying there’s anything wrong with quizzes and whatnot, but it would feel trite and out of place with my group.
The Blogging Your Game Sessions post was the closest I could come to having seen this on the TT blog before. After 18 months of doing this, I’m starting to reach the point where I can usually — but not always — remember what I’ve already covered. This one didn’t ring any bells. 😉
I like the idea of a combination approach — especially one that invites, but doesn’t require, player involvement. And the quiz idea? That’s awesome!
I love doing recaps; I think they’re great. I’d do them all the time if it weren’t for my players and five little words:
“Last time, on Dragonball Z…”
I’m running a monthly game, and I find that handing out a written recap at the start of the session is a great reminder and time-saver: “When we last left our heroes….”
It usually sparks some discussion among the players as we continue setting up, and helps everyone get back in the swing of things. And writing out a few paragraphs as part of my pre-session note compilation is no biggie.
This also serves as ‘cheat sheet’ to remind players of specific points they may have forgotten, names of important places and NPCs they just encountered… and, if I’m feeling sneaky, it can help “steer” them toward certain plot points and away from others based on what I mention and what I skip.
My favorite tagline to use comes from old Saturday M=monring triple features, where they would often show several episodes from a cliffhanger-serial ….
“For those who came in late ….”
It helps to capture the adventure serial/ film noir aspects of the Eberron game I run.
I like combining player & GM recaps, but at different times.
At the end of a session, I give my players an opportunity to tell me what they’ve learned (in or out of character) for a bit of extra XP (those who play World of Darkness games already know where I’m going with this). I’ve seen this range all over the place, from how to use an existing power / ability in a new (or unexpected) way, to some character trait their character was unaware of, to piecing together bits of games A, B, and C to fit into metaplot D. I’ve found that players pay a bit more attention when they know XP is involved, but it’s not something that’s very formal so players who hate extra work won’t arbitrarily shrug it off.
Plus, one player’s observations can feed into other player’s recap, stimulating more discussion about is as a group rather than an individual effort. This also lets me see if anything I’ve done or am trying to do is unclear from a player’s point of view, as well as showing me what the players like and are paying attention to, so that I can better tailor my games to suit what everyone likes.
Before each game, I also give a verbal recap (no more than a paragraph or two if you wrote it out), touching on what went on in the last session as well as a brief overview of anything else going on in the game that the players may need reminding of (meta-plot, ongoing campaign or story arcs). This beginning recap is also a GREAT time to remind players of how much time they have left to accomplish a task if there’s a deadline involved…
BTW, my favorite tag line is, “When last we left our stalwart adventurers…” which I gleefully stole from a GM who ran an absolutely awesome Shadowrun game back in the mid- to late-90’s.
I used to write up a detailed summary of what happened in the previous session. This ended up being too much work.
I usually will do a short recap, or ask the players to recap what they can and then fill in the gaps.
One of the things I started doing before ending the first phase of my campaign (and subsequently taking a break) was sending out a quiz every once in awhile (whenever relevant) asking players to recall specific information from the campaign. The catch is (since we were running a D20 campaign) that successfully answering the questions earns you a skill point. Since the only class in D&D core rules that has an appreciable amount of skill points is the Rogue, this gives me the opportunity to round out Player Characters more (ie, if your character just read an extended tome on history, your Knowledge: History skill ranks probably shouldn’t be 0 any more). The idea is that the reward, which, while not substantial is tangible, should encourage players to get into the lore and details of the campaign.
Being as I play in a one on one campaign, I ask my player what she remembers from last time. Then I fill in the gaps. It seems to work OK as long as I don’t demand too much. As for writing recaps, I have never done it. If you go that way, try letting them turn in outlines or one shot notes (shown below). They take less time and effort and accomplish the same thing as writing in prose.
– This is a one shot note
– This is a new note.
– You get the idea.
Now that I think about it, handing out a written recap — as opposed to posting it online and hoping your players will read it — is a really, really good idea (thanks, Calybos!). Done in outline form (as Chad suggested), it would require less work than writing a “story hour” recap, and your players would be able to focus on it at the same time.
If anyone has a chance to try this (outline-style recap handouts), I’d love to see a guest post about how it went. 🙂