Your group has just completed a major story arc. They have been down in the depths of the Dungeon of Ultimate Sorrows for weeks. You are ready to start off the next delve, into the Tower of Unimaginable Anguish, but are your players ready, and more importantly are their characters? Perhaps all they want is some R&R, to head into town, spend some of that hard-looted gold, and find out the latest gossip. Before their assault on the Tower, they need a repositioning session.
Come Aboard. We’re Expecting You
The repositioning session gets its name from the cruise industry. Some cruise ships sail one route for part of the year, and then another route for the other part of the year. Between routes, the ship needs to sail from the first route to the second. The cruise lines like to have the ships full when they sail, so they offer discounts for these repositioning cruises (end of free cruise advice).
The repositioning session serves a similar purpose, it is designed to fill in a spot between one major story arc and the next arc. A typical repositioning session would be one where the heroes having left the dungeon return to town before they head out to another adventure. This type of session is noted for having less combat, and more roleplaying, and often trend towards a group of individual scenes rather than a single storyline. There is a stronger emphasis in these types of sessions on character development because of the higher roleplaying and individual scenes.
This type of session is useful in any kind of campaign structure. In a linear structure, it is a break between arcs. In a branched structure, it is a good time to have a decision point, allowing the players to select the next branch to follow. In a sandbox, it is time to leave the last major encounter and begin movement to the next location.
Set A Course For Adventure
Why even have a repositioning session? Why not just walk out the mouth of the cave and through the threshold of the tower? As Robin Laws illustrated in Hamlet’s Hit Points, to create drama and keep interest you cannot have the same type of beat occur over and over. The repositioning session prevents just that: it is a low-tension beat, designed to break up the end of the first story arc, with its climactic battle, and the opening of the next story arc, with its rising action.
The repositioning session is not only good for the overall campaign but it is good for players and GM’s alike. For the players, being out of danger gives them time to focus on the more fun aspects of their characters, leading to deeper connections to their characters, which creates character growth. For the GM this session is low-to-no prep, and can be a nice break after prepping many sessions of complex encounters. It is also a great time to interact with the characters through NPC’s, the types that the characters are not trying to stab in the face.
Life’s Sweetest Reward
There are two philosophies for the repositioning session: the GM plans out the session, or the players decide what to do with their hard-earned downtime. Both ways work, and you should pick the one that best fits your group. If you have a group of proactive players, and are fine improvising the session, let them drive the session. If you have players who are more reactive or are less comfortable with improv, then plan out the session.
I have provided a list of some activities characters can partake in on their day off. This list is just a sample, there are many more things you and your players will come up with:
- Character development – let the character meet with an NPC and explore a relationship through roleplaying.
- Reflection and Planning – the downtime gives the players time to think about the unused plot hooks and unresolved storylines, and make some decisions about what to do next.
- Re-stock – the classic shopping trip. It could be for a new magic wand or a hyperdrive upgrade. Let the characters spend some resources and upgrade their equipment.
- Pet projects – if characters have their own pet projects, such as research, or item creation, or building a church, now is the time to put some effort towards those endeavors.
- Heal – for games that have slower healing rules, this slow pace gives the character time to heal and recover.
- Swap in or out characters – if you have a troupe style of play or have rotating players, these sessions are ideal for changing up the cast.
- Foreshadowing – drop some hints of things that are on the horizon, such as the next story arc.
Let it Flow, It Flows Back To You
There are a few things you need to keep in mind as you structure the repositioning session, so that the session does not morph into a different kind of session. Here are a few tips when planning or running your session:
You can have a bit of action in the session, but avoid having a full on encounter of any serious threat, otherwise you are back to that higher-tension beat. If you group needs some action to keep focus, then put in a chase or a short fight, something to shake up the table but not put anyone in grave danger.
Something for Everyone
Make sure that every character gets a chance to accomplish something during the session. If you are planning your sessions out, you can ask your players between sessions to tell you what they would want to accomplish and write that into the session. If you are not planning, then at the start of the session ask around the table what the characters wish to get done, write them down, and as you improv the session, work them into the story.
With the propensity for the repositioning session to become a collection of individual storylines, use fast scene cuts to cycle from character to character keeping everyone at the table engaged. Avoid getting trapped in someone’s scene for too long, otherwise the other players will disengage from the game.
Small scenes and objectives
Knowing that you are gearing up for another large story arc in the coming session or two, you want to keep the plot of this session contained so that it does not sprawl into something that displaces your other story arc (unless you are into emergent play, and then just play through). Any problems or challenges you present should be able to be resolved in a short time, within a scene or two, or they should be able to be shelved until the next time the players have a repositioning session.
Soon We’ll Be Making Another Run
The repositioning session is a technique for creating a dramatic pause between major story arcs. It is also a time to allow the characters to grow both mechanically and through story. There are tricks to running a good repositioning session, but through control of the scope of the story and good scene cutting it can be enjoyable for the entire group.
Have you used the repositioning session before? What are your characters favorite types of downtime activities? Do you plan out your repositioning sessions or do you improv them?