As the GM, it’s can sometimes feel like you’re the only one paying attention to what’s actually happening in the game. You show up to start the next session and no one seems to remember what happened the last time you played, even when you left them hanging on the edge in a cliffhanger. Does this mean the players don’t care? Should you even bother crafting a cohesive game that avoids gaping plot holes? When you ask if anyone remembers what happened last time and you’re met with a table full of blank faces, do you ever think, “Why do I bother?”
It is absolutely frustrating, but the players not remembering details about what happened during the last game is not necessarily a sign of their disinterest. Chances are, if they showed up to play again, they want to be there for more than just snacks and soda. Many of us have busy lives beyond the gaming table. There’s work, significant others, children, bills to pay, fix-it projects, and even favorite TV shows to watch if we’re being honest. Even if we’d like to devote most of our brainpower to a regular game, it’s just not feasible.
There’s also a matter of perspective. As the GM, you’re going to have a far broader view of what’s going on in the game than the players will. You’re responsible for juggling all aspects of the game so the players have an interesting world to explore. While you may know the importance of the relationship between the leader of the merchant’s guild and the local noble house, all the players may remember is the overdressed shop owner’s cute monkey pet. Essentially, what they may remember as being important from the previous session may not always be in line with what you think are the critical points of the game.
So what do you do when you’re trying to weave together an epic game through multiple sessions? How do you avoid those blank stares when you try and pick up from where you left off?
Don’t be afraid to recap. “So, last week you entered the dragon’s lair, freed the hostages and defeated him spectacularly. Unfortunately, a couple minions got away with the artifact.” There’s nothing wrong with giving your players a summary of what happened the last time you played. It helps get everyone on the same page and may remind them of the goals they’re trying to accomplish. Even if they don’t remember specifics, they’ll be quick to correct you if you mention something that doesn’t jive with their slowly returning memories of the last game.
Ask leading questions. “After you found the hidden warehouse where the cult was hiding the bodies of their victims, what were you going to investigate next? The church or the preacher’s last known address?” You’ve probably prepped for the session, so you have an idea of what they were planning. They may need a little nudge in the right direction to remind them what their characters were planning the last time they played.
Jump right into the action. “The moment you open the cargo bay doors, there’s a bunch of mercs laying down heavy fire on the ship. Whoever this is, they’re getting in the way of you reaching that diplomatic hearing in time.” Hey, you know where they were headed and what they were planning. Why not jump right to the action? When done right, nothing gets you into the beating heart of a game quicker than being thrown right into a fight. When the dust settles from the fight, your players can regroup and figure out what to do next and they’ll probably remember a little more about what happened the last time.
Play directly to the PCs. “Jax, lastÂ gameÂ you were in a knockdown, drag out battle with your archenemy, but she got away. Corax, that fight came close to leveling the hospital where your boyfriend works. What’s the plan?” While the players may not remember the exact details of the last session, you can be sure they’ll remember who their character is and what that character’s goals and desires are. If you key in to the specifics of the PCs, it’ll keep them invested in the overarching plot and help keep the momentum of the game going session to session.
I’ve always had a pretty strong memory, so when I’m a player, I’m usually the one spouting off the recap to the rest of the group. As a GM, I’ve learned that my players do care about the game, but sometimes they need a little nudge to remember the specifics. If you’re patient with your players and don’t take their amnesia personally while giving them the hints they need to keep moving forward, you’ll be rewarded. Heck, even if a couple of them remember everything that happened, others might be grateful for the refresher.
As long as you remember where you parked the game, it’s easy enough to get the players on board to get the game moving once more.
I start every session by reading out a short “Previously in [insert campaign title here] . . .” in the style of an on-going TV show. These four snippets of information can both summarize the previous session, and flag up older events I expect to be relevant this week.
Generally, the Players nod and smile along, as I refresh their memories.
All the best
I always start with a recap, it’s just so ingrained into how we roll (pun intended). Sometimes the players will add something I forgot (which tells me it’s a detail *they* think is important, so then I consider doing something more with it). I do try to be very brief – just the highlights or clues that will kickstart the new session.
Since we play rarely these days, I don’t use cliffhangers anymore, but when I did, I still did a recap and then skipped straight to the action.
I’m also convinced that the larger player group you have, the harder it is to remember every detail because the game/story is spread across many PCs, and the players might not have paid too much attention when the action was focused on one or two of them.
With a tiny group (like mine – two players) it is easier to remember sessions even if a PC wasn’t present in a certain memorable scene. I am blessed that both these excellent players I have take copious amounts of notes, too, so in a way I don’t really NEED to do session recaps; it’s just a way to focus attention and get going.
In the last campaign I ran, we had a facebook group for gaming in general, but we mostly used it for discussing things about the game between sessions. The day before sessions, I would always write up a recap/preview post to get everyone up to speed and ready to go. I would write it up like it was a TV show with openings like “In our last episode…” and then I would end the write-up with comments along the lines of “Will our heroes survive the coming battle? Will they recover the item they are questing for? Find out tomorrow at (game time)!”
Our group meets every two weeks, so in the ‘between’ weeks I like to put out a short email newsletter of what happened or what was learned. It’s also a reminder where we will step off in the next session.
In our most recent session, the group was attending a party held in their honour. A few good role play moments ensued but the bulk of the play has been done over the past week via a series of text messages. Very conversational and private without having to ‘sidebar’ a conversation at a session. At the next session players can decide which information to share with the others or keep to themselves. It seems to be working well and I’ve had plenty of buy-in from 75% of the group.
One o my favorite mechanics from the Mouse Guard RPG is that one player (cannot be the same from the last session) is required to give a re-cap of what happened in the last session. We think of it as “Previously on Mouse Guard . . .” They get a small reward for their re-cap and usually everyone chimes in with things they might have missed. Putting it in the players hands is nice, as GM it makes it less about “Let me tell you what you all forgot” and turns it into a group activity of remembering what happened last game and getting back into character.
I always do a recap, and as much as possible I get the players to give the recap and there is reward for doing so. In fact I don’t recall a regular game where this wasn’t the done thing…
I like the ‘mouseguard’ suggestion of it cant be the same player each week, as there does tend to be one player who is happy hogging the limelight (if you are reading this Nicky, yes I mean you! 😉 )
the more I hear about mouseguard, the more I want to play it I must admit.
Mouse Guard is not only the best written RPG book I have ever read, but got me thinking about gaming in a whole new way. It is not your average game. But playing it has changed how I play any other RPG.
We always park here: http://whfrp.weebly.com/session-reports
Granted, it’s a lot of work to write up but the players are always aware of what happened. (And they sometimes leave in character comments!)